A long awaited U.S. Supreme court decision is being celebrated by tribes across Alaska and the nation today. The Ramah Navajo case is a 22-year-old class action lawsuit against the federal government that sought full payment for contracts the tribes held for health services, law enforcement and land programs. Anchorage Attorney Lloyd Miller has worked on the litigation. He says government attorneys told the Supreme Court justices during the trial that if it was held responsible for the damages it would be a billion dollars.
Miller says the decision’s impact will most likely mean tribes who have hesitated in the past to contract with the federal government will now do so.
Miller says this is what Congress intended and currently about half of the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget and more than 60 percent of the Indian Health Service budget are under contract with tribes. The amount is more than $2.3 billion. He says because the contract expense the government underpaid were fixed costs such as workers comp insurance, the tribes had to pay for it. And since 70 percent of tribal expense is salaries, this meant reducing positions. He says the impact in Alaska will be huge.
Miller says the funding shortfall averaged about $100 million per year nationally and about a third of that deficit was in Alaska.
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