Media Release: Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Supports Governor Walz’s Supplemental Budget

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Cass Lake, MN – Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced his supplementary budget yesterday in St. Paul, Minnesota. Prior to making his budgetary request public, the Governor and his Administration conducted meaningful consultation with two (2) tribal nations affected by the budget request: the White Earth Nation and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. As part of the Governor’s request in this off-budget year, he is seeking funding that would provide much needed relief to White Earth and Leech Lake for the alleged overpayment for the tribes’ medicated assisted therapy (MAT) programs.

The Leech Lake Band administers a MAT program aimed at combating the opioid epidemic that has devastated its northern Minnesota Reservation community for several years. In 2019, the Department of Human Services (DHS) claimed that both White Earth and Leech Lake were billing the State of Minnesota incorrectly for the MAT programs each tribe administered. DHS alleged that the billing error attributable to Leech Lake amounted to approximately $14 million over a five year period spanning from 2014 to 2019. Since DHS made these allegations, Leech Lake officials have consistently asserted that the Band’s MAT program, including all billing, was administered according to guidance and direction from DHS.

“We followed DHS guidance from the very beginning,” said Faron Jackson, Sr., Chairman of the Leech Lake Reservation Business Committee. “From the outset, we have believed this is the State’s issue to resolve and we are pleased that the Governor has taken the initiative to propose funding that would finalize this matter and hold the tribal stakeholders harmless.”

The Leech Lake Band has had open lines of communication with both DHS and the Governor’s office during this time as the Band and the State continued to seek ways to resolve the matter in a way that respected tribal sovereignty and complied with applicable state and federal laws.

“We feel this measure in the Governor’s supplementary budget resolves this particular matter and we urge the Minnesota Legislature to speedily enact this budget proposal, so DHS and the tribes can move forward together and continue to provide high quality services to our citizens that will help bring healing and wellness.” Chairman Jackson concluded.

The Band will continue to work with the Governor’s office, DHS and legislative officials to see this matter resolved in a manner that does not negatively impact the services the Band provides.

Media Contact: LLBO Government Relations, Leonard Fineday (218) 760-1712

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