Hundreds of millions of dollars a year in funding for American Indian social programs are bypassing the very tribes that need the money most, congressional auditors reported Wednesday.
The General Accounting Office found that wealthy tribes with revenues of more than $100 million a year are, in at least a handful of cases, receiving more federal dollars than the neediest tribes for child welfare, law enforcement and other critical needs.The accounting office, in its 47-page report, did not name the wealthiest tribes or evaluate whether the arrangement was fair. But it did suggest that things would be different if the Bureau of Indian Affairs revised an outdated funding formula to account for Indian gaming, which was approved by Congress in 1988. While most of the nation's 556 federally recognized tribes are below the poverty line, a minority have gotten rich off gaming.
Now it appears the rich tribes are getting richer, partly at government expense.
One tribe, the Mashantucket Pequot of Connecticut, has been making more than $1 million a day from its vast Foxwoods Casino. At the same time, the government is giving the tribe $385,000 for basic tribal services.
"As long as it continues to use a funding distribution method that is relatively static, BIA has no assurance that its current (funding) distribution is most effectively meeting the needs of tribes," the accounting office stated.
In response, BIA said that federal Indian policy did not require it to reduce funding to rich tribes to help the poor.
Some Arizona tribes fear Congress might use the report as ammunition to unfairly penalize reservations with profitable casinos. Sixteen Arizona tribes have gaming compacts with the state.
Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., who requested the study, has already moved to redistribute funding for the program that was the focus of the report.