OKMULGEE, Okla. — Terra Branson-Thomas, Muscogee (Creek) Nation's secretary of commerce, helps oversee the COVID-19 CARES Act funding the Nation received in 2020.
“We have always advocated for an extension," Branson-Thomas said. "We honestly thought it would be done a little sooner."
But it didn't happen until the end of December when Congress included a one-year extension in the second stimulus package.
“We were very thankful for the extension. It put us in a position where we could create some longer programming that would both support government operations, service delivery for citizens and ultimately allow us to complete some projects we had initiated," Branson-Thomas said.
Those projects include increased storage space for PPE and cleaning supplies, a safe place for citizens who need services, and a meat processing facility. All three should be completed by early spring.
The extended deadline also allows them to add new projects, including plans to increase safety in government workspaces with hands-free technology and a program to help the homeless.
"We have a lot of elders who live on fixed incomes where one incident could create a very significant impact in their life and ultimately could lead to homelessness," Branson-Thomas said.
According to Congress, the second stimulus includes $3.3 billion in dedicated COVID-19 relief funding for tribes. While it’s not clear yet how each tribe will benefit, Branson-Thomas believes it will allow the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to focus more on healthcare, child care, mental health programs and vaccine deployment.
It’s also providing the tribe additional time to help its citizens through direct payments to individuals.
The tribe now has more time to review applications that were submitted by a Dec. 15 deadline and they recently added a second payment for those who need more help.
"While we are calling it a second round payment, we increased the threshold so the payments themselves just increased," Branson-Thomas said. "So, we went from a $500 payment for hardship applicants to a $1500 payment for hardship applicants. And then for those income applicants, we went from $1500 to $4500.”
While Branson-Thomas said it wouldn't take them another year to spend the money, it does allow them to be more thoughtful and thorough in what they do, something she believes should have happened for sovereign nations even before the pandemic.
"Recognition through the CARES Act of tribal governments as in the best position to provide for their citizens is really a long time coming," Branson-Thomas said.
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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