UPDATE: Please note that the documents linked in the article coverage are sample drafts. The sample applications are are not the final documents citizens will use to apply. Please refer to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation website for more information and updated documents as they become available.
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma– Appropriations to distribute $282,266,728 in Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) to various existing programs and creating new aid programs were approved in Muscogee (Creek) Nation National Council Extraordinary Session on June 11. All members of the council were present except for Rep. Robert Hufft who was excused.
NCA 20-038, A law of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation authorizing the expenditures of Coronavirus aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) funds received from the United States Department of the Treasury to Establish the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Coronavirus Relief Fund Program passed with a vote of 11-3.
According to the legislation on the agenda, the total funds would be split between five separate categories. A committee headed up by Secretary of the Nation and Commerce Terra Branson-Thomas identified five areas that reflected the tribe’s eligible funding needs.
Those areas are Citizen and Family Relief, Enterprise Relief, Healthcare Services and Access, Government Operations, and Contingency funding.
|Category||Amount of funding|
|Individual and Family support programs||$60,028,00.00|
|Health Care Service and Access||$41,077,087.37|
|Enterprise Relief Programs||$102,500,000.00|
|Government Operations and Support||$63,384,145.09|
The topic was discussed extensively in the remote call-in session.
A motion to accept the bill was made by Will Lowe, who sponsored the legislation that was introduced by Office of the Principal Chief. Travis Scott seconded the motion to adopt. Joe Hicks motioned to return the legislation to committee and was seconded by Joyce Deere.
Several Council Representatives weighed in on the discussion. Hicks stated he had concerns about the council having a voice in the legislation.
“I feel there are things that need to be fixed, I’d love for the council to be involved because we have been getting calls about the legislation and think it would be good to have the input from everybody,” Hicks said.
Scott was concerned with time sensitivity issues and government functions.
“I’m not saying the tribal citizen input is not important but I think we are on a real strict time frame,” Scott said. “The details in the legislation were done by a committee process; there was a lot of time put into it.”
“We have less than six months to expend this money.”
Representative Anna Marshall expressed concern with the allocation amounts for those categories identified in the bill.
“My concern is not so much the five distinct areas but the allocation amounts,” Marshall said. “So it’s not a need to rewrite or redo the whole legislation, but to look at particularly how much money is not being allotted to the citizens.”
Executive branch officials referenced the expenditure timeline and flexibility of funds use as a reason to carry on with the legislation.
Second Chief Del Beaver emphasized the legislation left room for flexibility.
“If we end up needing more money we can reallocate some funds from the areas that we haven’t used as much as we thought we would need,” Beaver said. “But time is an issue with this, we can even change policy to reintroduce assistance maybe in December.”
“A lot of this has come down to a guessing game, and if we aren’t spending money like we thought we can revisit it and come back to the council.”
Principal Chief David Hill said flexibility was a priority.
“We can look at additional support, the way the bill is budgeted it is to assume every citizen can get some kind of support,” Chief Hill said.
Chief Hill then deferred to Gaming Operations Authority Board Chair Chris Ray to explain how a delay of the bill would impact the gaming operations and potentially the tribe’s next fiscal year budget.
He told the council that a delay in the CARES Act Allocation could mean a delay in gaming fund distributions to the tribe.
“The Bank of Oklahoma is expecting us to receive some of this money to help us get back into compliance with our loan, because until we are back in compliance with our loan, we aren’t allowed to make distributions to the Nation,” Ray said. “It would also alleviate some cash flow concerns, based on current revenue projection.”
“Without any assistance gaming is not forecasting to be making a distribution to the Nation until September, and that distribution is forecasting at a reduced rate.”
A vote was taken to approve the appropriation and the legislation passed with an 11-3 vote.
Voting in favor of passing the CARES ACT Funds were Representatives Will Lowe, Anna Marshall, Charles McHenry, Thomasene Yahola-Osborne, Darrell Proctor, Travis Scott, Mary Crawford, Joyce Deere, Patrick Freeman, James Jennings and Adam Jones III. Voting against the legislation were Mark Randolph, Lucian Tiger III, and Joe Hicks.
As the proposed budget stand, $60,028, 00 has been allocated to individual and family support programs. Those programs are allocated as follows:
MCN Coronavirus Income Support Program ($36,198,000)
The Community & Human Services Department (CHS) proposes to establish a new program that will support those citizens, no matter their geographic location, who have experienced a loss of income or employment during the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Global Pandemic. The program also proposes to provide one-time payments to citizens whose monthly incomes are fixed and are experiencing significant new and increased costs associated with COVID-19.
This program proposes to streamline application and related documentation collection to provide one thousand five hundred and no/100 dollar($1,500.00) payments to 24,132 eligible citizens on a one-time basis.
MCN Coronavirus Hardship Support Program ($9,000,000)
The CHS proposes to establish a new program that will support citizens who are not otherwise eligible for the Income Support Program, but are experiencing new and increased household expenses as a result of market changes during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Eligibility for the Coronavirus Hardship Program would include those citizens in households with incomes under four hundred percent (400%) of the 2020 Federal Poverty Guidelines.
CHS will issue one hundred and fifty and no/100 dollar ($150.00) payments per citizen in each qualifying household. The estimated program cost assumes payments to approximately 60,000 citizens.
Mvskoke Media reached out for comment from the other council members who voted no on the CARES Act legislation.
Randolph responded saying he had two major concerns that lead to his vote against the legislation.
‘Number one, am I going to vote for a package that seems to benefit the Institution of the Mvskoke (Creek) Nation more or do I support a package that takes into a money percentage that would benefit the people more,” Randolph said. ‘Number two, I voted no because the feedback I received from the majority of the citizens is they were not for this package.’
Mvskoke Media requested the documents accompanying the legislation prior to the meeting but was not able to obtain the documents until after the legislation was passed.
Citizens can read the proposed budget for the Coronavirus Relief Fund Program legislation here and listen to the recording of the session here.