Cherokee Nation’s $1.8B ‘rescue’ plan gets green light
Cherokee Nation leaders passed a resolution May 27 detailing how the tribe plans to spend $1.8 billion in federal COVID-19 recovery funds. The proposal includes direct payments of $2,000 for all 392,832 tribal citizens.
“This is such an exciting opportunity for us as Cherokee people to have this amount of money to invest in our people and our future at the same time,” Tribal Councilor Keith Austin said. “This is a guideline that we’re aiming at, but these are the places we want to make a difference. We have the opportunity to not only get people on their feet, but keep them on their feet.”
The funds have been made available to the tribe as part of President Biden’s $20 billion American Rescue Plan. Councilors addressed and approved the spending outline during an Executive & Finance Committee meeting and subsequent special Tribal Council meeting.
“This is a broad plan about how to go about being more precise in how we spend $1.8 billion,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “This is not an appropriation bill in front of you, this resolution. But it’s a large amount of money – it’s such an unprecedented amount of money – that it seemed prudent to put forward categories of spending. Those categories reflect priorities that this body works on month in and month out and which we work on in administration.”
Under the approved resolution, CN citizens will receive direct payments of $2,000. While the original plan called for two separate $1,000 payments over two years, councilors and the administration agreed instead to provide a single $2,000 payment.
“I did a poll to ask the people what they preferred,” Tribal Councilor Mike Shambaugh said. “The people did prefer overwhelmingly to get one lump payment of $2,000 as opposed to $1,000 this year and $1,000 the next year. Also, there was people who, they didn’t care which way it went. Either way they were just glad they were getting it.”
Hoskin said the original two-year payment plan was meant to “make sure we captured newborns and those getting their citizenship.”
“But I think if we do one lump sum but extend the application period through at least a year, that will give people an opportunity to do that,” he said. “We also are undertaking steps to do more overtime in registration and even extend registration to a second shift. If you’ve gone through the hallways in the last week, you’ve seen that a lot of our citizens have heard about the proposal and are interested in making sure their address is updated and their children, in particular, are citizens of the Cherokee Nation.”
Not all councilors were convinced direct assistance to CN citizens was the best use of funding. At-Large Tribal Councilor Julia Coates suggested the $785 million earmarked for citizens could be better spent on programs “that would actually change people’s lives.”
“The fact of the matter is that $2,000 is not going to change many people’s lives, many of those who will be receiving it at least,” she said. “There are other things that we could do with this money that would.”
Applications for direct assistance are expected to be online in June, but citizens are encouraged to register for the tribe’s Gadugi Portal now to ease the sign-up process later.
“I think we are going to take a ton of calls,” Shambaugh said. “I think we’re going to have to be able to give people information. We’re going to have to probably help some people get their stuff online because I’ve told people I will. I know that’s going to be something, but it’s coming.”
Other aspects of the spending plan bolster the tribe’s mental health and wellness initiatives, assist Cherokee-owned small businesses and reinforce tribal health care services. It also addresses infrastructure, education, housing, job training and more for Cherokee families.
Components of the proposal include:
$785 million (43.09%) for COVID impact payments to every CN citizen;
$175 million (9.6%) for government revenue replacement;
$130 million (7.13%) for health infrastructure/behavioral health/wellness programs;
$120 million (6.59%) for housing/quarantine;
$120 million (6.59%) for education/language/higher education relief & assistance;
$100 million (5.49%) for job training/small business/economic impact;
$80 million (4.39%) for CN workplace health & safety improvements;
$80 million (4.39%) for anti-poverty initiative;
$65 million (3.57%) for broadband infrastructure;
$58 million (3.18%) for transportation and infrastructure (including roads and water);
$50 million (2.74%) for CN payroll & hazard pay;
$20 million (1.1%) for Community Partners/CCO;
$15 million (0.82%) for financial administration of ARPA funds;
$15 million (0.82%) for food security;
$5 million (0.27%) for COVID vaccine education & outreach; and
$4 million (0.22%) for PPE.
Tribal Councilor Wes Nofire, who voted against a related measure to amend the tribe’s operating budget, requested information on specifically how the rescue funds will be spent.
“We have a lot of time to appropriate these funds,” he said. “Individual assistance, you know, it was jumped out there. Now we’ve got to pass that. But everything else can just be on hold. There’s no reason why we have to appropriate the rest until we have some real, delivered plans on what we should do with that and engaging with our citizens.”
At-Large Tribal Councilor Mary Baker Shaw said her constituents have asked to “be involved in how this money is decided.”
“They’re wanting us to ask their opinions on what they feel we need,” she said. “They want to talk to us to tell us what they think it should be. And here we are – we haven’t even received the money – with a proposed budget. I’m concerned that we’re not involved. The Council’s had nothing to do with this, this budget.”
Hoskin noted that the resolution includes “broad categories that are readily identifiable as things the Cherokee Nation already does.”
“This is not a budget,” he said. “This is a plan about how we would broadly spend this. We’re starting the conversation today, councilor. We’re not ending the conversation.”
Of the listed priorities, “Those are my constituents’ wants and needs,” Tribal Councilor Shawn Crittenden said.
“What a place to start the conversation with all of those,” he said. “Going back to our constituents, that is the calls I’ve got for six years. I’m a proud sponsor of this and I’ll tell anybody that because simply, it’s going to help a lot of people.”