The Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday included $2.8 billion for Indian tribes in its portion of the nearly $900 billion economic stimulus bill, and a House version to be voted on Wednesday includes a similar amount. That includes hundreds of millions of dollars for schools, health clinics, roads, law enforcement and water projects.
Dante Desiderio, an economic development policy specialist at the National Congress of American Indians, which has lobbied for the money for the past year, calls the bill a "once in a lifetime opportunity" for tribes.
"It really has the potential to lift our communities out of poverty," Desiderio said.
Indian Country has a long way to go in terms of reviving tribal economies. According to the National Congress of American Indians, real per-capita income of Indians living on reservations is still less than half the national average, unemployment is twice that of the rest of the country, and eight of the 10 poorest counties in the United States are on reservations.
That group originally asked for $6.1 billion in the stimulus, an amount that they said would generate more than 50,000 jobs.
"It's not going to allow them to catch up, but its a significant boost," said North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee who inserted the money into the stimulus. "This is a group of Americans who have been left behind in many of the basic needs of life."
$2.8 billion is a lot of money to a desperately poor people, and it gives many tribes a chance to do things that can bolster the economies on reservations for years to come.