Tribal members to receive COVID-19 relief benefit of $300 cash

By the CUJ

MISSION – Every member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) should receive a COVID-19 Pandemic Relief Benefit check of $300 that will be sent on or before April 30 following action April 13 by the Board of Trustees (BOT).

That means every CTUIR member – more than 3,100 men, women and children – will receive the money “to cover the unanticipated and unbudgeted expenses” incurred from March through May as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The benefit package will cost nearly $1 million, but the BOT is hopeful it will be reimbursed under the federal CARES Act, which has allotted some $8 billion in COVID-19 relief to Tribes throughout the United States.

“I think Umatilla will do pretty darn well,” said Tribal attorney Dan Hester. “It’s a legitimate COVID cost. I think you’ll be able to reimburse yourself.”

The CTUIR Enrollment Office needs updated information, including addresses and phone numbers, to send out checks. (A checklist of that information and how to send it is at the bottom of this story.)

Most adults will receive checks made out directly to them and sent to a current address. The benefit for minors and incapacitated adults will be paid to parent(s) or a legal guardian.

No Tribal garnishments will be placed on the $300. That means, for instance, that money will not be taken out to pay loans and no money will be taken out for back child support.

The Tribes are issuing the checks as a governmental benefit under the CTUIR General Welfare Code, which is exempt from federal income taxation.

However, that does not mean the federal government will not count the $300 as income. For example, the federal government could count the $300 against a person’s Supplemental Security Income through Social Security.

The question of taxes was discussed at length during the BOT’s Monday afternoon televideo conference.

Tribal attorney Naomi Stacy told the BOT that in her research of federal COVID-19 legislation she “cannot find assurance that we will be able to keep it from being counted as a resource … We will make every effort to say it should not be counted, but there is uncertainty. Congress is not certain yet either.”

Hester outlined guidelines for issuance of the Pandemic Relief Benefit, guidelines that were developed to comply with federal law.

The question, Hester said, “Is how can the Tribes provide the benefit without impacting state and federal benefits. Those federal and state laws define what impacts those programs. We try to exempt the benefits from taxes, but they (state or federal governments) can count them as a resource in determining SSI … We would have to look at each state or federal statute and there’s not time to look at those in time for this to go out.”

Attorneys noted that the $1,200 federal stimulus check that eligible Americans are supposed to get is another resource that likely will impact Social Security.

Furthermore, the May 20 gaming dividend checks, which are expected to be lower because the casino has been closed during the pandemic, also will affect such things as SSI.

Last week, the BOT declined a “stimulus” or “relief” proposal to provide $200 cash to all CTUIR members.

None of the Board at the time opposed the assistance, but most said they wanted to wait for more information, particularly about the kinds of stimulus funding that could be coming from the federal government in one of the financial-relief packages approved by Congress.

BOT member Jill-Marie Gavin said it appeared that the Board made a good decision to wait a week for more information before approving a pandemic relief package.

“A week later we’re able to point out differences … if this is done and the staff feels most confident we can regain the costs then I think this is the best strategically,” Gavin said.

However, she was still concerned about individual tribal members and said they should be “warned there may be taxes associated with this.”

Toward that goal, Enrollment Officer Toni Minthorn said a flyer with information about the pandemic relief benefit can be included with the checks that go out to Tribal members.

BOT Chair Kat Brigham said the Board is trying to assist all Tribal members, but not everyone will be pleased.

“We’re not going to create a perfect situation,” she said. “There will be problems. Some people will be happy, some people will be unhappy. We want to get this done as soon as possible.”

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Provide the following information to the Enrollment Department as soon as possible: Name, mailing address, phone number and e-mail address.
  • Contact information can be submitted via e-mail, phone or in the drop box at the Nixyaawii Governance Center (NGC) in Mission. E-mail or call and leave contact information on the voicemail at 541-429-7035.

If you choose to drop off your information, place it an envelope, address it to Enrollment and deposit it in the Tribal Ballot Box in the front parking lot of NGC. The box is currently being used for deliveries to staff in the NGC and not for elections.