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Oglala Sioux Tribe lays off employees in government shutdown

By Chet Brokaw

PIERRE (AP) — The Oglala Sioux Tribe in southwestern South Dakota is laying off 118 people after running out of federal money for many programs due to the federal government shutdown, Tribal President Bryan Brewer said Tuesday.

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Brewer said the temporary layoffs on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation will hurt programs that provide meals to older people, prevent suicide, care for children removed from their homes, provide child care for working parents and help people pay their heating bills. The program that provides meals to elderly people will be limited to one meal a day, and other programs will be stopped because of a lack of federal money to keep them operating, he said.

"We don't have any money now to help people with individual needs, electricity or anything like that. We have nothing right now," Brewer said.

The furloughs amount to about 7 percent of the tribe's employees, Brewer said. The tribe recently got permission to spend some of the federal money it had already drawn down, a move that prevented more extensive layoffs that could have sent up to half the tribe's employees home, he said.

In addition to the layoffs, many other tribal employees will see their paychecks cut because they will work only 56 hours in an 80-hour pay period, Brewer said.

Other American Indian tribes around the nation have already furloughed employees in crucial programs, but some have used their own money to keep programs operating.

Officials of other South Dakota tribes did not immediately return phone calls Tuesday seeking information on how they are dealing with a lack of funding caused by the government shutdown.

Brewer said even if the government shutdown ends soon, it could take a month or more to get federal funding to fully restore the programs that are being cut. When the Tribal Council approved the layoffs, it also passed a resolution guaranteeing that those who are furloughed will regain their jobs once funding is restored, he said.

The federal government is obligated by treaty to fund the programs, Brewer said, adding that he hopes Congress reaches agreement soon to end the shutdown.

Lydia Bear Killer, chair of the Oglala Sioux tribal health and human services committee, said the government-funded programs are not entitlements, but instead are contractual and legal obligations of the U.S. government. She said the lack of funding on the Pine Ridge and other reservations will also hurt businesses in non-Indian communities near the reservations.