Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed a $50.5 billion emergency spending bill to aid victims of super storm Sandy, 62-36.  Senator Mark Begich (D. AK) revealed something very interesting about this bill:


Alaska did not receive any money in the Sandy relief bill that cleared the Senate Monday night.

The bill did include a provision that will allow tribes to directly apply to the federal government for future disaster aid.

A governor needs to request a federal disaster declaration for any issues in a particular state. Senator Mark Begich says that’s changing for tribes.

“It basically gives the tribes, in this case the federal government who recognizes them as a government, a direct request,” Begich said. - Alaska Public, 1/29/13

This is good news because in some states like South Dakota, past governors have at times either stalled or tried to ignore reaching out to FEMA to help Native American tribes in times of emergency:


The relief bill is designed to pay for Hurricane Sandy aid, not set policy. But tucked inside is a major change in protocol.

Tribal leaders can now appeal directly to the federal government for a disaster declaration – bypassing the state. Robert Holden is the deputy director of the National Congress on American Indians. He says there has been a history of governors ignoring disasters in Indian Country, so this is a welcome change.

He says not every tribe has the resources to do proper damage assessments and appeal directly to the federal government. - KTOO, 1/30/13

One of those past governors is Mike Rounds (R. SD) who is running for Senate:


For me, his delay in seeking a disaster declaration for aiding the SD reservations devasted by ice-storms and blizzards in Dec. 2009 and Jan. 2010, were especially hard to accept.  After filing the request in March 2010, the Presidential declaration followed and aid was given.  But the delay was tragic. - meralda's diary, 2014 Senate race - SD, 11/29/12
Here's the story meralda is referring to:


Unfortunately, there was a delayed response in the Governors office submitting the disaster declaration, for the Christmas blizzard that immobilized the entire state of South Dakota for several days. FEMA was in the field across South Dakota assessing damages, when the January ice storm and blizzard hit causing a crisis in many areas and devastating Cheyenne River Reservation. - NDN News, 3/10/10
meralda credits fellow Kossack Aji for helping make the delayed assistance a major issue and getting this great community to take action.  You may remember her diary from a little over two years ago:


Aji's diary is a terrific detailed analysis of Rounds delay to help South Dakota tribes during the Christmas blizzard.  But Aji really nails it in this section of her diary:


That's what this is about:  The state of South Dakota, under the auspices of the Rounds administration, does not want to spend any extra state money to get federal disaster assistance for the reservations.  

And now that private aid is pouring in, thanks in large part to the efforts of Kossacks over the last two weeks, the governor's office has the perfect excuse not to move forward with the federal disaster process.  Inadvertently, we may just have given him exactly what he wanted:  Time to wait out the weather and public sentiment.  (Not that we had a choice in the matter; lives were at risk.  But the fact that some folks are now in a better position thanks to private efforts should in no way excuse the state of South Dakota from its obligations to its citizens.) - Aji's diary, Why is S.D. Gov. Mike Rounds Denying Federal Aid to Indian Reservations in Crisis?, 2/16/10

For the record, Begich, along with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R. AK) and South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson (D. SD) are all on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and voted for the Sandy relief package.  Johnson's colleague, Senator John Thune (R. SD) is also a member of the Indian Affairs Committee and voted against the relief package.  Senator John Hoeven (R. ND) also voted for the relief bill.  Here are the Senators on the Committee that were also Yay votes:

Maria Cantwell (D. WA)
Jon Tester (D. MT)
Tom Udall (D. NM)
Al Franken (D. MN)
Brian Schatz (D. HI)
Heidi Heitkamp (D. ND)

John Barrasso (R. WY)
John McCain (R. AZ)
Mike Crapo (R. ID)
Deb Fischer (R. NE)

Begich has been fighting hard for Alaska's Native American Tribes in the U.S. Senate:

Alaska's junior senator fired off a letter to President Obama this week that essentially accuses the Indian Health Service of trying to rip off Alaska Natives and American Indians.

Sen. Mark Begich asks for the president's help in "seeing to it" that the agency pays the hundreds of millions of dollars it owes tribal health organizations for unreimbursed administrative costs dating back more than a decade.

"In Alaska alone, three contractors suffered over $218 million in contract support shortfalls reaching as far back as 1997," Begich writes.

He adds that similar amounts are due tribes across the nation. "It is shocking that the agency would now delay justice, call for new audits, or seek 15 years later to renegotiate the amounts that were due at the time." - Alaska Dispatch, 11/30/12

Johnson has also proven to deliver for South Dakota's Native American tribes:


WASHINGTON – Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) announced that five South Dakota tribes will receive $1.3 million in grants to enhance public transit service on tribal lands. The funds were competitively awarded as part of the Federal Transit Administration’s Tribal Transit Program. Earlier this year, the Senate passed a transit bill authored by Chairman Johnson which will double funding for transit programs on Indian reservations and give tribal transit providers greater certainty for planning and capital improvements.

“These funds will help tribal members stay connected and keep local economies growing,” said Chairman Johnson. “Reliable and accessible public transit is vital for many residents of Indian Country, and I will continue working to bring transportation options and economic opportunities to every part of South Dakota.” - Political News, 12/9/12

Johnson authored a transit bill early last year that would double funding for transit programs on Indian reservations and give tribal transit providers greater certainty for planning and capital improvements.  The transit bill passed through the Senate.  The funding comes from the Federal Transit Administration’s Tribal Transit Program.

The five tribes to be receiving the funding are the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Yankton Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe:

These transit agencies provide critical public transit services to a growing number of tribal members and the general public who rely on these rides to travel to employment, education, medical care and other services. - Political News, 12/9/12
With guys like Begich and Johnson looking out for Native American tribes in their home states, I'm sure they had some heavy influence on the Indian Affairs Committee to help include this new provision in the relief disaster bill.

Begich has proven to be a true friend of Alaska's Native Americans and I hope they will remember that when the 2014 election comes around.  Hopefully Johnson still has some fight in him and will run again for re-election.  I could be wrong but it sounds like he's gearing up for another run:

Johnson also said he will decide this spring whether to seek a fourth term in the Senate. He noted he will be 68 by the time his current term expires. In the Senate, that might qualify him as a young man, he said in a humorous aside. Weighed against a possible retirement is his position as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and chairman of the military construction subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“I’m more powerful than I’ve ever been. But there comes a time when you should say ‘that’s it.’ But I don’t know if that time has come yet,” he said. In the meantime, Johnson acknowledged he is still raising money for a possible campaign. - Argus Leader, 1/15/13

If Johnson retires, South Dakota Democrats are looking to former Congressman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) and Johnson's son, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson (D) as potential candidates if Johnson retires.  If Johnson chooses to retire, the Democratic nominee will need a strong GOTV campaign with South Dakota's Native American electorate to help keep this seat in the blue.  But but South Dakota Democratic Party Chairman Ben Nesselhuf sounds confident that Johnson will run again:
"Until he tells me otherwise, he's my guy. I have every reason to believe he would run just one heck of a campaign," Nesselhuf said. - Huffington Post, 12/6/12
We need to keep Democrats like Begich and Johnson in the Senate so Native Americans have trustworthy allies in Washington D.C..  Donate to their campaigns:

Originally posted to pdc on Wed Jan 30, 2013 at 01:30 PM PST.

Also republished by South Dakota Kos, The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, and Native American Netroots.

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