Tribe awaits new COVID funding

Derrick James, McAlester News-Capital, Okla.
·3 min read

Mar. 19—The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is awaiting to see how much money it will receive from the latest federal COVID relief bill.

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into law March 11 with $20 billion going to tribal governments across the country.

"We don't know how the U.S. government will allocate those funds," said Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton in his weekly blog. "My hope is that tribal citizen enrollment data will be more of a determining factor than outdated funding formulas that resulted in funding inequities in how CARES Act relief was decided."

The tribe received a total of $200.8 million from the federal government through The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump in March 2020.

According to Batton, the U.S. Treasury Department has up to 60 days to determine how to distribute the money to Native American tribes.

The chief said as of now, all the tribe currently has are projections and it is still awaiting the full details of the amount and the rules that come with it.

"While we wait, the cross-functional committee that led our CARES Act efforts is fully engaged in planning and discussions about the potential of ARP funding," said Batton.

Batton said a meeting with the Tribal Council identified key categories the tribe could fund with the funding from ARP.

"We intend to extend and re-open application periods for successful programs provided by CARES that benefit our most vulnerable tribal members (like addressing food and housing security) and initiatives that support public health," said Batton.

Previous programs for eligible tribal members and elders included money for food and rental payments for tribal members living in Mutual Help, Independent Elderly, LEAP or Affordable Rental Housing properties.

The tribe is currently enrolling eligible tribal members for the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

The program will assist Choctaw Nation tribal members that are unable to pay rent and certain utilities due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic if the household is at or below 80% of the area's median income.

Eligible utility expenses are electric, water, gas, sewer, and trash removal and does not include telecommunications expenses such as telephone, internet, and cable television.

According to the tribe, the ERAP program will first help catch up overdue rent and utility bills first before aiding for current or future amounts due.

Tribal members who pay a mortgage or own their home are not eligible for the ERAP program.

The program is available to eligible tribal members across the United States with applications accepted through Nov. 30, 2021 or until funding is exhausted.

More information on the program can be obtained by calling 1-800-235-3087 or by emailing erap@choctawnation.com

Batton encourages tribal members who have previously received a reloadable food card to keep the card.

"We also plan to renew programs that align with our mission of providing opportunities for growth and prosperity like education, child assistance, and small business support," said Batton.

The chief encouraged tribal members to stay tuned to the tribe's website at www.choctawnation.com/covidrelief and the tribe's social media channels for the latest news and updates on relief funding.

Contact Derrick James at djames@mcalesternews.com