Bill proposes $20.1M for Fairbanks health center

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Six new Alaska Native health centers will be in line for $66 million in unexpected operating money under a bill approved by the U.S. House and expected to be passed by the Senate.

The Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center, which opened in March in Fairbanks, is in line for the biggest share — $20.1 million.

Native health centers in Barrow, Anchorage, Nome, Kenai and the Copper River area would receive between $3.5 million and $12.5 million through the appropriations bill approved Wednesday, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The money for the Chief Andrew Isaac center would pay for 172 new jobs in Fairbanks, said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

The Indian Self-Determination Act of 1975 called for the federal government to pay for staff and operations at health facilities built with private funding provided by Native corporations. The promise in past years has not been kept, Murkowski said, and the Obama administration had again proposed limited funding.

“What we have dealt with in the past is you have a facility that has been built, the investment has been made by the tribe and then you can’t staff it up,” she said. “What good is the facility if you can’t provide the services, if you don’t have the professionals?”

Victor Joseph, director of health for the interior Alaska-based Tanana Chiefs Conference, said the organization is glad to see the federal government providing money promised when Tanana Chiefs build the Fairbanks center.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June 2012 ruled that the federal government had to fully fund self-determination contracts with tribes and Native corporations. The president’s budget proposal, however, would have allocated a capped $477 million to tribal health centers.

The measure passed Wednesday in the House allocates full funding to each health center. It could provide 80 jobs in Barrow and Anchorage, 45 in Nome, 79 on the Kenai Peninsula and 64 in Copper River communities.

Future full funding is not certain, Murkowski noted.

“We’re going to have to keep pressing on them,” Murkowski said. “This comes with a price tag, but where a contract and a commitment has been made we fulfill the obligation.”

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