Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) visited the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe Tuesday to learn about how they’re impacted by the government shutdown.
The tribe said more than 50 percent of the funding for their reservation health clinic comes from the federal government. They took their final drawdown of funds last week, and the tribe is currently filling the gap.
“We’re using what we call our tribal hard dollars,” said chairman Jeromy Sullivan. “Profits from the casino or Gliding Eagle market. We’re using those profits to offset costs at this time.”
The clinic serves about 1,600 people, said Sullivan.
He believes the tribe can step in for about three months max. In the meantime, many members will not notice shutdown impacts unless it stretches into March. Anything after that is more worrisome.
“Furloughs, possible time off – essential services will have to keep going…” Sullivan said.
But more immediately, the clinic's only full-time doctor is working for free. Without him, Sullivan said, the services they provide would be limited.
“We’re very concerned about it,” said Sullivan. “Our medical director and primary physician is Commissioned Corps [of the Dept. of Public Health], so he’s without pay right now. A lot of tribes are experiencing interruptions in care.”
Sullivan also worried for tribes without an outside funding source.
Dr. Luke McDaniel said he hasn’t missed his first check yet because of the pay cycle, but the timing of his next check is unclear.
“I’m considered essential in that I have to come to work, but whether I get paid or not is uncertain,” he told Sen. Murray in a brief meeting.
“It’ll be hard eventually,” he said, noting he has several children and a wife that just went back to school.
“We’re doing everything we can to bring stories back to DC to convince people to get the shutdown over, get people back to work and get their paychecks,” Murray told him.
The tribe is hopeful, but unsure if their clinic expenditures will be reimbursed. Members noted other shutdown impacts as well. They said furloughs in the Bureau of Indian Affairs have halted real estate purchases on the reservation. Necessary paperwork is expiring without BIA approvals, they said.
Murray told KING 5 she’s been called to DC for a vote on Thursday.
“It makes me feel horrible and frustrated that people’s lives have been upended over a battle in DC that has nothing to do with what they do or how they’re living their lives,” she said.
Murray said if the deal presented to her stays strong, which is President Trump’s push for border wall funding, she doesn’t expect a budget to pass.
She said if the Republican plan is a ‘my way or the highway’ proposal, “We’re not going to get very far.”
She said the government needs to reopen before Democrats should negotiate on border wall funding.
"We need to put people back to work," she said. "They shouldn't be held hostage, and then we will deal with the issue of border security and be able to reach a compromise if necessary."