By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
An agricultural loan program headquartered at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation is back in business after its funding was suspended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture two weeks ago.
"We're back in full operation," said John Sunchild, chief executive officer of the National Tribal Development Association, which administers the Indian Credit Outreach Program for the Farm Service Agency of USDA. The program helps Native Americans prepare applications and meet the requirements to get agricultural loans in 28 states.
Credit Outreach offices were shut down on Jan. 16 after NTDA received a letter from the FSA notifying it that funding for the program was being temporarily suspended as a result of concerns with how NTDA was using government money.
After several days of negotiations between FSA and NTDA officials, the parties Tuesday reached an agreement on conditions for reinstating the credit program.
Neal Rosette, chief operating pfficer of NTDA, said today that the program's seven employees - six of whom are full time - in the Rocky Boy office returned to work Tuesday morning. Another 12 employees of the program's other 10 regional offices were also notified Tuesday that they should return to work, he said.
Rosette said the shutdown caused a delay in the loan application process for some applicants, but that none of them were denied money as a result of the delay.
The agreement with FSA requires the Credit Outreach Program to institute internal financial controls, such as creating a financial management manual to make sure it is following federal guidelines, Rosette said. NTDA is also considering hiring a grants and fiscal management officer to oversee the program's financial operations, he said.
"We can understand where they were coming from in terms of (their) concerns, and we believe we've addressed those adequately," Rosette said. "Hopefully we won't have any more interruptions in service."
He said the cooperative agreement with FSA will be valid through the end of 2004.
In January FSA suspended the Credit Outreach Program and put a hold on NTDA's funding because NTDA was not meeting federal accounting standards for the money it received from FSA, said Tom Hofeller, director of the Office of Business and Program Integration at FSA.
Hofeller confirmed today that FSA is finalizing a cooperative agreement with NTDA that will meet federal accounting requirements.
"We've worked that out and we're happy that the government's interest is being protected here," Hofeller said.
"NTDA has been very cooperative in this," Hofeller added. "They were eager to get restarted and we were eager to get them restarted."