Published On: Sat, Aug 1st, 2020

EBCI using CARES Act funds to supplement programs for tribal members 

 

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF 

 

The CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) was signed into law by President Trump in late March, and funds from that have now been received by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI).  Those funds are being used to supplement and add to many tribal programs and provide assistance for EBCI tribal members.  

The Tribe has set up a page on its official website where tribal members can apply for this assistance online: https://ebci.com/government/covid-19/covid-19-assistance/ 

The One Feather has requested, from the EBCI Treasury Division, the exact amount received by the Tribe in CARES Act funding, but that information has not been received by press time.  

Cory Blankenship, EBCI Secretary of the Treasury, stated in a video announcement last week that the funds received by the Tribe are substantial.  “Our particular allocation is about as much as we’d receive in federal grant funding every year.  So, think about this year, we have practically doubled the federal money that has come to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians as a result of the CARES Act.”  

In that same video, Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed said the funds are being used to help as many tribal members as possible in a responsible manner.  “We have gone about this in the same way that we go about everything else with two things in mind.  The number one being strategic and number two being a good steward.” 

Several federally recognized tribes, such as the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, have issued per capita distributions with their CARES Act funds; something that both Chief Sneed and Secretary Blankenship say are against the federal rules.  

According to information from the U.S. Department of Treasury, “Governments have discretion to determine how to tailor assistance programs they establish in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.  However, such a program should be structured in such a manner as will ensure that such assistance is determined to be necessary in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency and otherwise satisfies the requirements of the CARES Act and other applicable law.” 

It goes on to state, “For example, a per capita payment to residents of a particular jurisdiction without an assessment of individual need would not be an appropriate use of payments from the Fund.”  

Chief Sneed noted, “There’s a lot of misinformation out there on social media.  There’s been a lot of comments made that other tribes have given, essentially, a per capita distribution to their people with their CARES Act funding.  And, it’s true that several tribes have done that.  It’s not authorized in the Treasury guidelines.” 

Secretary Blankenship said the Tribe undergoes an annual audit of its finances including a single audit that looks at federal monies received.  He said going against the rules by doing a per capita distribution from the CARES Act funds could affect other federal funding the Tribe receives.  “If we don’t comply with the rules of those federal programs, then we’re listed as a high-risk auditee, and then it hampers our ability to secure future federal funding for essential funding.”  

Chief Sneed added, “We took a very conservative approach, based on those guidelines, to not just jump in and say ‘we’re going to do a per capita distribution because Tribe A, Tribe B, and Tribe C did it’.  We are thinking long-term and for the long-term financial future of the Tribe.”  

Information from the Office of the Principal Chief outlines some of the Tribe’s CARES Act assistance programs including: 

• Lighten Up Assistance Fund (EBCI Family Support Program 359-6092) 

– $500 one-time electricity bill payment assistance 

– Must live within five-county service area of Tribe 

– One payment per household 

– No dependency nor income requirements 

• TANF Program expansions (EBCI TANF 497-4317) 

– $300 per person in monthly payments 

– Must be actively seeking and applying for employment and must have been laid-off, furloughed, or out-of-work

– Must have custody of minor(s) or be age 60+ 

• Burial Assistance Program (EBCI Family Support Program 359-6092) 

– $3,000 in additional funeral funding and death must be attributed to COVID-19

– No residency requirement 

• Caregivers Assistance Fund (EBCI Family Safety Program 359-1520) 

– $500 one-time payment for foster parents to care for a COVID-19 positive child 

– No residency requirement 

• Minor Assistance Program (EBCI Finance 359-6000) 

– $500 one-time payment per EBCI enrolled minor living in the home as of Aug. 1 

– Applicant for assistance must be primary care provider 

• Executive COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Program (Office of the Principal Chief 359-7002 or Office of the Vice Chief 359-7005) 

– $300 weekly payment for individuals with additional $50 per child amount up to four children

– Must be advised to quarantine or isolate due to a positive COVID-19 test or direct contact 

– Must be ineligible for paid time off 

• Higher Education Emergency Fund (EBCI Higher Education Program 359-6650) 

– Student must be negatively affected by COVID-19 

– Assistance for state quarantine requirements with additional requests considered 

• Housing Assistance Program (EBCI Housing & Community Development 359-6906) 

– Waived rental fees from Housing and Qualla Housing for laid-off, furloughed, or tenants directed to quarantine or isolate

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