TULSA, Okla. — “For Cherokee Nation, that means providing our citizens the proper PPE. It means providing meals. With the current CARES Act money, Cherokee Nation has provided 16.1 million meals to its citizens. That’s our elders. That’s our students. That’s the people who need the funds,” said Kimberly Teehee, Cherokee Nation's delegate to Congress.
The Cherokee Nation and other tribes across the United States used the $8 billion appropriated to them in the CARES Act to help their citizens by providing meals, technology, and cleaning supplies.
They’ve also started building meat processing plants, PPE manufacturing facilities and fitness centers to end food insecurity and increase health and fitness. But several restrictions and a deadline to complete those projects is fast approaching, and the tribes said they need more time and flexibility to help their citizens.
”What we do know is that if the deadline of December 30th doesn’t get addressed before December 30th then tribes lose out and so do the states," Teehee said. "They lose out, too, because there are states having problems spending down their dollars for the very same reason.”
As the Cherokee Nation’s delegate to Congress, Teehee's job is to advance the tribe’s government priorities to Congress, federal agencies and the state of Oklahoma. She worked late into the night to make sure tribes were included in the first stimulus package. And now, she said the second stimulus is needed to fix some of the problems in the first one.
"The need for additional dollars to carry us into the next fiscal year is important," Teehee said. "The need to extend the deadline at least a year out is imperative and the need to loosen the restrictions on how we spend down those dollars is very important for the tribes.”
Oklahoma Senator James Lankford agrees. His office called all of Oklahoma’s tribes to make sure they knew how to access the CARES Act funding and document the spending.
”Most of the tribes have documented how they would use it but have also said 'I need more time so I can use it more efficiently,'" Lankford explained.
He said there is a need for more funding.
"We need additional dollars for vaccine distribution, for testing, for not-for-profits, for small businesses," Lankford said. "We need more flexibility for the tribes.”
But he reminds everyone that a second stimulus comes at a price.
"A lot of folks are talking about really big numbers to actually give to the tribes or the state for whatever it may be," Landford said. "Everyone needs to remember every dollar spent on COVID right now, every single dollar of it, is borrowed money. So, we shouldn’t run up a huge bill during this time and not have any expectation that bill has to be paid for at some point."
But it's a bill the tribe’s believe is important to help tribal citizens across Oklahoma get back on the road to recovery.
"It’s really an unnecessary exercise I think for treasury to put in so many restrictions for the tribes use," Teehee said. "It’s not that the tribes can’t spend down the money. I think we can all find a place to spend the money where it’s most needed when we are given the freedom to do so.”
Is the CARES Act funding working for you? If you're an enrolled member of a Native American tribe in our area, let us know by emailing NativeAmericaRecovery@kjrh.com.
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