By Morgan Taylor, Reporter
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma – The Muscogee (Creek) Nation Contracting & Employment Support (CESO) Program has been allocated CARES Act funding to distribute to citizen owned businesses.
At MCN CESO, businesses get certified as Native American owned through their program. They are then put into a job bank, which is available to those requesting work from CESO and provides them with quotes while enforcing a native preference.
However, the recent CARES Act funding that has been received by CESO is not tied to the program but is being distributed through CESO using a different application process. Muscogee business owners do not have to be enrolled in the CESO program to qualify for this particular funding.
The MCN Coronavirus Citizen-Owned Business Relief Program was opened in June to provide economic development relief grants to MCN citizen-owned businesses and enterprises for expenses incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic provided with CARES Act funding.
MCN CESO Manager Edith Baker along with Secretary of Nation and Commerce Terra Branson-Thomas have taken applications for the program and so far, have distributed roughly half a million dollars of the seven and a half million-dollar ($7,500,000.00) budget for the funds according to Branson-Thomas.
Any funding not used by the end of the physical year will have to be returned. Citizens that own businesses are highly encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity while it still available.
“We were provided this funding to provide up to $50,000 grants to businesses to help address any needs due to the pandemic,” Baker said. “Maybe they have had to change the way they do business or something that in order to respond to business changes due to pandemic. We aren’t covering existing pay roll or loss of income but we are covering other expenses they have.”
Funding eligibility requires that the business be at least 51% percent owned by a Muscogee (Creek) citizen and be within the state of Oklahoma. Business owners will have to provide receipts.
“We only give 80% of the awarded amount for the first pay out,” Baker said. “Once they provide receipts and show that their utilizing it for what was asked for then we give out the additional 20% of the funds, but they do have to provide receipts and proof of payment.”
The grant funds cannot be used to make up for loss of income and cannot be used to pay existing payroll.
“If they had to hire someone additionally due to the pandemic, we can’t cover that pay roll,” Baker said. “Nor can it be used for existing employees.”
The funds could cover expenses related to the pandemic like PPE, additional employees and additional technology for businesses that have had to switch to virtual.
“There is still money available and we want to help people,” Baker said. “This is funding we really want to give out. I want to reach all of our Creek owned businesses because this funding is there for them.”
Starting on Oct 1, the program expanded to Creek business owners who are not Oklahoma residents.
“The Nation has made a recommendation to expand the eligibility for this program to non-Oklahoman Creek citizens,” Branson-Thomas said. “So if a citizen lives in Texas and has been impacted by the pandemic previously that citizen would not have been eligible for the program but because we do have that funding available we have decided to expand.”
The application for the grant funding is not online. Applicants must call the MCN CESO office and request an application.
“I like to talk to them when I send them the application so I can walk them through the process,” Baker said. “A lot of people want to initially just do payroll and that’s the one thing we don’t cover, and I like to explain to them that there’s other places that we do help. We do a lot of counselling with them to help them find things that we do pay for.”
With assistance, Creek business owners can receive the maximum amount of what they are eligible to receive.
“It’s our hope and our goal that with having that one-on-one conversation we can help them leverage as much as possible,” Branson-Thomas. “For non-Oklahoma residents the grant may be treated as taxable income. So, we want them to understand the commitment they are making.”
Branson-Thomas continued, “There are a lot of business opportunities right now during the pandemic that are treated differently and this is just a different product with different treatment and requirements. We just want to make sure we were compliant with citizens who were applying for the grant.”
One recipient of the funding was Kathryn’s Flowers, owned by Muscogee (Creek) Citizen Charlie James located in Atoka, OK.
Kathryn’s has been in business in Atoka for over 60 years making it one of the oldest businesses in town.
During the Pandemic, Charlie had to close her doors to the public and faced many complications.
“My doors would not open had it not been for this opportunity,” James said. “During the period of pandemic, we had a flower shortage and had issues getting flowers in. My business was affected tremendously.”
The funding application deadline is currently set for Dec 1. The application process can take some time; citizens should get applications in as soon as possible as this funding is only available for a limited time.
If you wish to request an application or inquire about eligibility, please contact Zech Harjo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 918-549-2767 or 918-758-8782.