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Funding worries for American Indian Center

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Doug Poe, chief executive and executive director, American Indian Center of Indiana.
  • Submitted photo
  • Doug Poe, chief executive and executive director, American Indian Center of Indiana.

Federal money supporting local Native American workforce development may evaporate if Congress approves an effort to streamline a variety of job-training funds.

The Streamlining Workforce Development Programs Act (H.R. 3610) is designed to eliminate redundancy in federally funded job-training programs and reduce "wasted" taxpayer money, says the bill's sponsor, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-NC.

But eliminating dedicated funding streams and placing state governors in charge of distribution decisions could mean trouble for Indiana's Native Americans, said Doug Poe, executive director and chief executive officer of the American Indian Center of Indiana, Inc.

Despite the fact that "Native Americans face several barriers to employment," Poe said he fears Native Americans will experience diminished priority and funding under a state-controlled system.

In fact, according to Poe, the state does not track joblessness among Indiana's Native Americans.

"The State doesn't understand the population base and its specific problems," Poe said, noting that much of the center's success can be attributed to the trust his clients place in the native-operated outreach.

Established in 1992, the AICI serves members of federal- and state-recognized tribes and the Miami Nation of Indiana, particularly those wary of dealing with state agencies due to a lack of trust stemming from historical trauma after generations of abuse.

The center does receive some grant money, but the center relies on federal funds to pay for the office, salaries, insurance, job training and educational assistance so that other funds can be dedicated to cultural programs.

"Without it, we can't continue cultural programs," Poe said. "If this bill passes, the state will take the funds and the minimum will be dispersed. It will be the end of the Center – the only state organization supplying cultural and medical needs to the Native American population."

A 2011 Government Accountability Office report identified 47 federal job-training programs that cost taxpayers $18 billion each year. Only five have been evaluated for effectiveness.

Foxx believes that by consolidating 33 of the 47 programs into four flexible Workforce Investment Funds her bill will increase accountability, reduce administrative inefficiencies and foster a more efficient and goal-oriented workforce development system to better serve job seekers and employers.

Poe said he fears Native American services could become a casualty of the effort and is rallying supporters of the native community to contact their representatives.

"Now there is a focus on a national group, but by allowing each state's governor to decide how much each 'targeted population' gets, it breaks us into an insignificant number of people without an effective political voice," Poe said.

The bill is currently under review in a House economic opportunity subcommittee.

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