Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Richard S. Schweiker described with pride how his department was working hard to implement a new program of block grants to Indian tribes.
What he didn't say, however, was that some of the grants could be for as little as $28.
Under the budget reconciliation bill passed last summer, Indian tribes were allowed to apply for five of the department's seven block grants: alcohol, drug abuse and mental health services; preventive health; primary care; low-income energy assistance; and community services block grants.
For example, $225 million was made available nationwide for community services block grants. The tribes received special letters from HHS asking them, along with the states, to seek the grants, which are based on the percentage of their population below the poverty level.
But six tribes that have applied for the community services grants would qualify for less than $100 each, and 182 tribes qualify for less than $1,000. The 105 Yavapai-Prescott Indians in Arizona could receive a check for less than $7 as the tribe's first quarterly payment.
Half of the 338 tribes that applied for the community services program have been declared ineligible because a handful of states are not seeking the block grants this year.
"The postage may well exceed the amount of many grants," complained Suzan Harjo, legislative liaison for the Native Americans Rights Fund. "It's appalling that they HHS can be that insensitive."
The Navajo nation in Arizona will pull in the top community services grant: $212,626 for its 131,000 members, or about 11.2 percent of the money distributed to that state. But for the 770 members of the Iowa tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, the grant will be $95, if they decide they want it.