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 and passed by a 16-1 vote during a special meeting shortly before Chief Hoskin signed it into law. District 3 Councilor Wes Nofire was the only 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,” 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.
The tribe 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, Hoskin and Warner’s spending plan includes mental health and wellness initiatives to help citizens recover from the impacts of the 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 provides a $20 billion set aside for tribal governments under the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund 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.
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 Hoskin, programs under a-sv-dlv-i will be designed to knock down barriers to self-sufficiency created or worsened by the pandemic.