TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. signed legislation Thursday that will provide a $2,000 lump sum COVID relief individual assistance payment to all 392,832 Cherokee Nation citizens.
Tribal Councilors Mike Shambaugh and Joe Deere asked to amend the legislation saying citizens had expressed a preference for a lump sum of $2,000 in COVID assistance rather than $1,000 this year and another $1,000 next year.
The amended resolution was approved by the Council of the Cherokee Nation during a special meeting shortly before Chief Hoskin signed it into law. Also passed was a budget approving spending for, among other items, the $2,000 per citizen payment. That budget measure which funds the $2,000 payments was approved by a 16-1 vote, with District 3 Councilor Wes Nofire being the lone dissenting vote.
“The Cherokee people are still hurting from the impact of COVID-19, health care and the economy and I appreciate those Council member leaders who came to us and said we should do a lump sum payment to extend our citizens relief,” Chief Hoskin said. “In this resolution, we will appropriate funds out of the $1.8 billion to cover the individual assistance payments to citizens and adopt a broad spending framework with categories as a place to start which can be modified as we move forward.”
The total direct assistance for Cherokee citizens represents more than 43 percent of Cherokee Nation’s total $1.8 billion provided to the tribe as part of an historic investment in Indian Country through President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act.
“The Cherokee Nation has already received its entire allocation of federal ARPA funds from the U.S. Treasury. With those funds now available to us, and with the support of the Council, we will not waste any time in helping our Cherokee families with the $2,000 payment in relief funds they need to recover and rebuild from this devastating pandemic,” Deputy Chief Bryan Warner said. “We are committed to working with the Council of the Cherokee Nation to ensure our families, our communities, and our government services, which are vital to the Cherokee people, can continue the important work of rebuilding so that the great Cherokee Nation can become even stronger and healthier than we were before. This funding and the important investments we will make, especially the direct assistance to citizens, is an important step in this recovery process, and it will bolster the Cherokee Nation for many generations to come.”
The Cherokee Nation will begin launching applications for its Respond, Recover and Rebuild COVID-19 assistance through the tribe’s online Gadugi Portal. Applications for direct assistance are expected to be online in June. Pre-registering for the portal does not enroll citizens in the relief program, but citizens are encouraged to pre-register for the Gadugi Portal now to ease the application process later. The portal can be accessed at gadugiportal.cherokee.org.
Along with the direct relief to every Cherokee citizen, Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner’s spending plan includes mental health and wellness initiatives to help citizens recover from the impacts of the global pandemic, assistance for Cherokee-owned small businesses, opportunities to reinforce tribal health care services, improvement of infrastructure, and support for education, housing, job training and more for Cherokee families.
The American Rescue Plan Act, or “ARPA,” provides a $20 billion set aside for tribal governments under the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund or (“FRF”) to help turn the tide of the pandemic, address the economic fallout, and build a strong foundation for recovery. This includes supporting immediate stabilization for households and businesses in Indian Country. An additional $12 billion in funds for tribal governments is also being set aside through Indian Health Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of Justice and other agencies.
According to the U.S. Treasury, the $20 billion FRF set aside for tribes is to replace revenue lost by tribal governments, strengthen support for vital public services, help retain jobs, and address other challenges faced by tribal nations in the U.S. as a result of the pandemic.
“The spending plan approved and signed Thursday will not only provide a total of $2,000 in direct assistance to every Cherokee Nation citizen, but will also dedicate substantial resources to support tribal health care services and improve mental health, wellness, and substance abuse recovery efforts for Cherokee citizens, many of whom have struggled under the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic for more than a year,” said Councilor Shambaugh. “Citizens in my district have made it clear that they still need help to recover from this devastating virus, and I believe that must be our priority. This new legislation does just that. This will be an unprecedented investment in our people and our future as a tribe.”
Another portion of the funds will provide much-needed support to economic development throughout the reservation. This includes support for job training and small business programs with an emphasis on rebuilding the economy and training Cherokees who became unemployed due to the pandemic to re-enter the job market.
Included in the plan is $80 million for a new initiative to erase poverty barriers, called “a-sv-dlv-i,” the Cherokee word for “bridge.” According to Chief Hoskin, programs under a-sv-dlv-i will be designed to knock down barriers to self-sufficiency created or worsened by the pandemic.
Though the tribe’s spending plan is in its early stages, Chief Hoskin said the new Respond, Recover and Rebuild plan passed by Council will be carried out over a total three-year timeframe, with additional dollars being earmarked for education, housing, and infrastructure needs of Cherokee families.
Key components of the plan, on a percentage basis, include:
- 43.09% - COVID impact payments to every Cherokee citizen, irrespective of age or residency ($2,000 per citizen via the Gadugi Portal)
- 4.39% - a-sv-dlv-i (Anti-Poverty Initiative)
- 2.74% - Cherokee Nation Payroll & Hazard Pay
- 0.27% - COVID Vaccine Education & Outreach
- 4.39% - Cherokee Nation Workplace Health & Safety Improvements
- .82% - Food security
- 6.59% - Housing / Quarantine
- .22% - PPE
- 1.1% - Community Partners / CCO
- 5.49% - Job Training / Small Business / Economic Impact
- 6.59% - Education / Language / Higher Education Relief & Assistance
- 9.6% - Government Revenue Replacement
- 7.13% - Health Infrastructure / Behavioral Health / Wellness Programs
- 3.18% - Transportation and Infrastructure (including roads and water)
- 3.57% - Broadband infrastructure
- .82% - Financial administration of ARPA Funds
The plan is also subject to the guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Additional ARPA funds totaling more than $300 million designated under federal law for health initiatives will also be used for health construction initiatives, including among other projects behavioral health facilities and a new hospital. Chief Hoskin will present health care construction plans to the Council later in the year.
The Gadugi Portal can be accessed at https://gadugiportal.cherokee.org and more information about the $1.8 billion spending framework can be found at https://www.cherokee.org/about-the-nation/gadugi-portal/american-rescue-plan/.