Ahead of a compromise that kept the federal government running, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs on Friday allayed some fears of American Indian leaders worried a shutdown would be devastating to tribes, saying law enforcement services and schools it oversees would not be affected.
If a federal budget deal hadn't been reached by midnight, the agency said it would furlough about half its 8,767 employees, stop providing funding for welfare assistance, and cease any road maintenance activities.
It also would have discontinued higher education scholarships and programs that provide early childhood development and help students with classroom costs, spokeswoman Nedra Darling said.
Tribal leaders had feared a government shutdown would be particularly burdensome for reservations, where federal funding often plays a vital role in everything from law enforcement and social services to schools. They expressed worries about school closures and about money for police and other essential services running out.
But Darling said earlier Friday that the BIA will "continue to provide uninterrupted public safety services."
During the 1995 shutdown that lasted 21 days, all Bureau of Indian Affairs employees were furloughed, and there were delays in general assistance payments for basic needs to 53,000 benefit recipients.
Former BIA Assistant Secretary Carl Artman had voiced concern that another shutdown would mean the nearly 60 elementary, middle and high schools operated directly by the Bureau of Indian Affairs would have to close.
But Darling says those schools, located in 23 states, would stay open because they're not on the funding cycle being considered by lawmakers.
Many tribes had been assessing likely impacts following tribal council meetings and sessions with staff held earlier in the week on how to move forward.
"There would be a significant financial impact on our daily operations, and the (tribal) council would have to make some tough decisions," said Robert McDonald, a spokesman for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana.
The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma was assuring members that all services would remain, tribe spokeswoman Judy Allen said.
In Montana, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council recently met with department heads to go over their options if federal funding were suspended.
Loren "Bum" Stiffarm, chief administrative officer for the Fort Belknap Reservation, said his main concern is that a shutdown could occur as the Milk River threatens to spill over its banks. The rising river is predicted to go into flood stage within a week.
The reservation in northern Montana is home to the Gros Ventre and Assinboine tribes. Tribal leaders had planned to discuss the Milk River situation with the Interior Department.
Some tribal members and Alaska Natives also are among the federal workers that had been wondering about being furloughed.
Crystal Leonetti is a regional Alaska Native liaison for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She said workers at her Anchorage, Alaska, office have been told that Monday might have been a matter of coming in for a few hours to change voicemail and outgoing email messages and cancel meetings.
Associated Press writers Matt Volz in Helena, Mont., Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco, Shannon Dininny in Yakima, Wash., Murray Evans in Oklahoma City and Rachel D'oro in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed to this report.