Lawmakers have proposed cuts for two tribal health posts within the Department of Public Health and Human Services, saying the proposal would lead to a discussion of the importance of the positions in the appropriation.
Section B subcommittee lawmakers at their February 19 meeting proposed removing the positions of director of tribal relations and director of American Indian health posts within the Department of Public Health and Human Rights. Social services (DPHHS).
The Tribal Relations Officer acts as a liaison between the state and the tribes in managing the logistics of the DPHHS.
The Director of American Indian Health was established in 2015 after a 2013 state health assessment found white men live 19 years longer than Native American men and white women live 20 years older than Native American women in Montana. After meeting with tribal chiefs about the disparate health outcomes in their communities, Gov. Steve Bullock created the post by Order in Council.
Senator Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork, said he supported the cuts because he wanted to discuss more about the importance of the two posts.
“There are a number of tribal liaisons in the governor’s office and in the DPHHS and I think the discussion we’ve had, we would like to get on top of … a consolidation of those positions and the activities they represent,” he said. he declares. noted. “I will support this so that it opens a discussion on our position.”
Senator Mary McNally, D-Billings, said she had “real concerns” over the loss of the two tribal health posts.
“Maybe I could live with (cut) one (post), but I don’t think I can live with two,” she said.
Representative Mary Caferro, D-Helena, also opposed the cuts, saying she could not give “enough value or appreciation for the work they did to continue many positive efforts in Montana. “.
The motion to remove the posts was passed 4-3, with McNally, Caferro and Rep. Frank Garner, R-Kalispell, voting no.
Governor Greg Gianforte has said he is opposed to the cuts.
“Gianforte believes the proposed reduction is a bad course of action, and he will ensure that the proposed reduction is reinstated as the budget moves through the Legislature,” a spokesperson said.
Tribal leaders say cutting DPHHS posts will have consequences
Todd Wilson, executive director of the Helena Indian Alliance, said he had asked for help from those in each of the tribal health posts.
The Indian Alliance Helena applied for COVID-19 state funding, which involved an online application. But Wilson said he needed clarification on some issues, so he emailed someone in the state. But Wilson was getting no answers.
“I don’t know if I was clear or if my questions were received in the right way,” he said. So he called the head of tribal relations and explained the problem to him.
“She knew exactly what I was talking about. She made a call and then within an hour I got a call from the state and my question was answered. It never would have happened without this relationship manager. tribal, ”he said.
Wilson said the loss of the two tribal health posts would have a “huge ripple effect across Indian country.”
“Being able to navigate different aspects of DPHHS and having a real person we can call, email or text is paramount,” he said. “If they cut these jobs, they could lose a lot of important trusting relationships with the tribes that the state has built. Tribes need to trust who they talk to.”
D-Box alumnus Jonathan Windy Boy said he did not understand why the two tribal health posts were “distinguished” among the nearly 3,000 posts at DPHHS.
“Was this (proposed reduction) based on performance reviews? If so, will they carry out these assessments for each position in the service? I would like to understand how and why these reductions were proposed and what their rationale is. ,” he said.
Windy Boy said he plans to come up with amendments to reinstate DPHHS posts.
“It is becoming quite dangerous for us to continue down this path. ”
“There has always been a need for tribal advocacy. Medicaid, the expansion of Medicaid and other programs are helping our members, and without these positions much of the population will not have the advocacy they need.” , he said, adding that the elimination of posts could give rise to litigation.