Southern Ute Indian Tribe cuts funding to social services nonprofit

Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018 4:58 PM
Children play in their Head Start classroom in November in the Southern Ute Museum. Head Start had to move its classrooms last fall after asbestos was found in its old building on the Southern Ute campus.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council has told Southern Ute Community Action Programs that it plans to withdraw all support to the organization by Dec. 31.

SUCAP operates six social service programs that serve tribal members and other residents of the Ignacio community.

The change means that Ignacio's preschool will likely close, Dial-a-Ride hours will be reduced for senior citizens, and substance abuse treatment programs will cease operations.

"SUCAP operates several programs for the tribe that are funded by federal grants," the agency wrote in a news release. "The tribe is the grantee for these funds and had delegated the implementation of the programs to SUCAP for the past 50 years. At this time, SUCAP has not been informed of any plans to continue these services."

On Thursday, the tribe issued a news release stating that grants issued to benefit Native Americans "were not being used for those purposes."

"The tribe has determined it cannot, in good faith, continue to apply for grants under federal programs where SUCAP does not utilize the funds for the population which they were intended to benefit," according to the news release.

The majority of children enrolled in the SUCAP Head Start and Early Head Start programs are non-Native, and fewer than eight percent are Southern Ute tribal members. Numbers of Native Americans served in the employment and youth programs also are low, the tribe stated.

"These and other matters have caused the tribe to become increasingly concerned about SUCAP's management," the statement concluded.

On Tuesday, SUCAP staff, including director Eileen Wasserbach, met with the Tribal Council.

"We didn't get any indication that Tribal Council was going to change their mind," Wasserbach said.

The Pine River Times requested to attend the meeting, but was told media were not welcome.

About half of SUCAP's funding comes from grants unrelated to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, so SUCAP will try to continue operations, but on a smaller scale, Wasserbach said. The agency also will change its name.

While affiliated with the tribe, SUCAP has its own administration and 18-member board, although there are only 11 members serving at this time.

The Ignacio School District is determining whether it can operate the Head Start program, which provides local preschool and Early Head Start for daycare, said Superintendent Rocco Fuschetto. The district might not be able to get the program running in four months, he added.

Across the six divisions of SUCAP, funding through the Southern Ute Indian Tribe has varied levels of significance, according to the news release.

The Training Advantage The division that provides employment and job training is not projected to reduce services that are provided outside of the Ignacio community, but the Native American employment and training program in Ignacio will be discontinued.

Road Runner Transportation Public transit will not see changes in the intercity service between Durango and Grand Junction as part of the Bustang Outrider service, but expects to see some cuts in commuter bus service for Bayfield, Ignacio and Durango after Jan. 1. Also, the Ignacio Dial-A-Ride service, which provides over 15,000 trips annually, will be reduced from 10 hours daily to two hours only Monday through Friday. Daily bus service between Aztec and Ignacio will end on Sept. 30.

Southern Ute Head Start Head Start will be discontinued after December. Parents have been informed that services will end and they must find alternate child care; 124 children will be without services at that time. Additionally, 31 children served by the state's Child Care Assistance Program will lose support when that program is discontinued.

Peaceful Spirit Substance Abuse TreatmentServices will no longer be accepting new clients and will be scaling back in the next two months. Peaceful Spirit will stop serving residential clients on or before Sept. 30 and will stop seeing outpatient and monitoring clients on or before Oct. 24. Its operations will be completely closed out by the end of the year.

Ignacio Senior Center and SUCAP Youth Services Both agencies will experience a significant reduction in services, but should be able to continue operations. Impacts may include less frequent delivery of Meals on Wheels at the Senior Center and greatly reduced offerings in the Curiosity After School program.

"It is a long and really beautiful history of community cooperation, and I'm sorry to see that end," Wasserbach said. She hopes that with the school district and other agencies, SUCAP can continue serving the community. "All kinds of people and entities are stepping forward," she said. "I think the spirit of cooperation will be maintained. It's just a good idea."

SUCAP was established by the Southern Ute Tribe in 1966 to administer a federal grant to the tribe that would serve all ethnicities in the Ignacio community, according to the news release. Since that time, SUCAP has continued to find funding that allows needed human services to reach all the eligible people living within the exterior boundaries of the Southern Ute Reservation. In addition, the employment and training division and the transit division both serve a greater population across southern Colorado. In 2017, SUCAP served more than 2,500 individuals, and Road Runner Transit provided nearly 30,000 trips in La Plata County.

"While the organization is extremely saddened by this turn of events, the staff and Board of Directors remain committed to continuing the good work of over five decades, maintaining a full range of services and obtaining additional resources to continue," the release says in conclusion.

"Members of the SUCAP Board of Directors have met with Tribal Council to keep the lines of communication open," the chairman of SUCAP's board, Kathleen Sitton, wrote in an email to the Times. "The discussion was informative and we will be having a full meeting of the SUCAP Board early next week to discuss what the organization will look like as we move forward."