By Jill-Marie Gavin of the CUJ
MISSION – All Tribal members, including minors, will receive a $2,000 payment by July 31, according to a resolution passed July 7 by the Board of Trustees for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR).
The resolution states that the Inflation Mitigation payments will be paid for from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds received from the federal government in 2021.
The resolution passed with six voting in favor and zero abstaining or against. Board Chair Kat Brigham and Member at Large Corinne Sams were on travel at the time of the vote.
The mitigation package outlined in resolution 22-056 also includes a five percent mid-year Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) for CTUIR government employees paid for by current 2022 departmental budgets. The COLA, effective July 1, is for all Nixyaawii Governance Center employees and those working under the umbrella of the Tribal government. Kayak Public Transit, Native Plant Nursery and Tribal Environmental Recovery Facility will be included in the wage hike.
Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center (Yellowhawk), Cayuse Holdings, and Wildhorse Resort & Casino (WRC) employees will not receive the COLA, according to Board Treasurer Sandra Sampson.
The Health Commission approved a $2,000 new employee and current employee bonus for Yellowhawk employees in 2021 along with a $20 minimum wage late last year. WRC and Cayuse Holding employees receive annual bonuses based on years of service and attendance; the option for a COLA is negotiable with the Board and could be possible pending requests from their CEO’s, she said.
“Tribal government employees haven’t seen any bonuses and I think it will be good for morale to see this increase, especially considering the work that staff carried out throughout the pandemic. They worked tirelessly and kept the government going. With the cost of living rising and in honor of their hard work I am happy to see their time honored,” Sampson said.
The CTUIR COLA will be paid out July 25 and will include a retro-payment for the July 1-15 pay period.
Plans for the mitigation package began June 30 when Sampson, Rabb and staff members of the Office of the Executive Director met to discuss carryover funds from the 2022 CTUIR budget. The COLA was the first item on the agenda discussed and second came a discussion on how to address current financial strain faced by all CTUIR members.
Justification for the mitigation package was based on funds dispersed by bordering states and the federal government.
“Members of the Tribal community and Tribal government employees have experienced an extraordinary increase in the cost of living during 2022 that have adversely affected Tribal member and Tribal employee families as reflected in the following: a. the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has calculated the inflation rate to be 8.6%; b. the American Automobile Association has calculated the increase in the cost of gasoline in eastern Oregon to have increased 56% over the past 12 months; c. the Social Security Administration has increased Social Security benefits by 5.9% in response to the recent increases in the cost of living; and d. California has approved assistance to families of up to $1,050 to address inflation and the increase in gas costs;” the resolution states.
TRIBAL MEMBER INFLATION MITIGATION PAYMENTS
The first discussion regarding Tribal member payments involving the entire Board took place during a work session, held July 7.
The meeting was a closed executive session at the request of staff, according to Sampson.
Board member Sams provided comments she shared during the work session with the CUJ.
According to Sams, the draft proposal called for a $1,000 payment made to each CTUIR Tribal member age 18 and over. Sams was first to question the payment going only to adult Tribal members.
“Concerns about inflation are especially troublesome for Tribal members with multiple dependents in their households. A $1,000 payment to a single person would not have the same impact for a household of three or more,” she said.
Sams also shared her concern for single-parent households with Tribal member children.
“Tribal member children with non-enrolled parents would not have been provided for under the first proposal. I am thankful the Board was supportive of ensuring the payment will go to all, rather than just 18 and over. Another pressing concern during the work session was how we address the long term ramifications of inflation. The price of essential items, such as food, aren’t going to go back down. Gas prices fluctuate, but we may be heading into a recession and the financial hardships faced by CTUIR Tribal members aren’t going to go away any time soon. Being able to participate in a decision to double the Inflation Mitigation funding is, again, something I am very thankful for,” Sams said.
The ARPA funding received by the Tribes in 2021 was based on a mixed calculation involving the number of enrolled members and employment. According to Sampson, 65 percent of that calculation is based on Tribal enrollment.
“ARPA funds belong to the People. It’s important that we ensure it is being spent to stabilize Tribal member households and meet the needs of our families,” Sams said.
Feeding families and buying school clothes are the first expenses that came to Secretary Sally Kosey’s mind when she cast her vote to double the payment to $2,000 and include children in the final resolution.
“The price of taking care of a family is sky high. We need to make sure parents have enough money to buy their kids clothes and provide for their households,” Kosey said.
Payments will be sent straight to Tribal members age 18 and over by direct deposit or mailed paper check, depending on how they receive their dividend payments through the Enrollment Department.
“Our office is prepared to handle the delivery of the payments and will have it out on or before the end of July. We strongly encourage everyone to have electronic deposits set up to avoid lost checks or delays in the mail. The forms are available on our website along with address update forms,” Enrollment Director Toni Minthorn said.
Minor Tribal member payments, as stated in resolution 22-056, will go to the parent or guardian on file in Enrollment. The payments are not subject to taxes due to the General Welfare Code and will not be subject to housing, CTUIR loan department or child support garnishments.
Sampson hopes the resolution provisions will help ease tensions and inflation costs for Tribal members and employees.
“Many people that may not receive their dividends will be able to use this money to help with children’s clothing for school and any bills they need to cover,” she said.
The funds will be in addition to custodial trust payments requested by parents of Tribal members.
“Extra money is usually welcome this time of year, especially for parents trying to get their kids ready for school. The $125 allowed from the gaming distributions sure doesn’t go too far these days,” Minthorn said.