Tribal Government & News

Community meetings slated to discuss '21 Money'

02.28.2017 Dean Rhodes Tribal Council, Culture, Education, Events

Tribal members have heard horror stories of Tribal youth receiving their “21 Money” – per capita that has been invested for them from birth until they reach 18 years of age – and blowing it on partying, drugs and irresponsible behavior.

Far less often, Tribal members have heard stories of Tribal youth who have received their “21 Money,” saved it and used it later in life to help buy a home or start a business.

Tribal Council members and Tribal staff are interested in hearing both kinds of stories during a community meeting that will be held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 15, in the Tribal Community Center, 9615 Grand Ronde Road.

The purpose of the meeting is to hear from Tribal members and their families about how the Minors’ Trust Fund money is helping Tribal members, what it is being used for and how the program can be improved.

Is it a good idea to, perhaps, require all Tribal youth to have at least a GED or high school diploma before receiving their money? Should Tribal youth be required to take financial literacy classes before receiving their disbursement? Can the Tribe do more or is everything running fine as it is?

“Tribal Council and the General Manager’s Office are reviewing the Minors’ Trust Fund program,” states a prepared statement released by General Manager David Fullerton. “Over the next four months we will be reviewing how the program is operated and assessing whether the objectives for serving the membership are being achieved.”

The Member Benefit Fund Ordinance says that the Minors’ Trust Fund is set aside “to assist in education, or other important purposes … to contribute to individual self-sufficiency, which is a stated value of the Tribe.”

“One of the first priorities will be to determine whether there is a need to provide Tribal members more or easier-to-access professional advice for financial and tax planning and how to best provide that,” the statement says. “Our staff is researching what other Tribes have experienced and how they operate similar trust funds and options for teaching financial planning in schools.

“Council understands how important the Minors’ Trust Fund program is to our members. We want to hear from you about how the program is operated and how it affects your life and future. … We will serve a nice meal and provide a safe space for Tribal members to talk about experiences, concerns and recommendations for how the minors’ trust is working.”

In a separate interview, Fullerton said the idea for the community meeting began with Tribal Council wanting to initially survey members in their early 20s about how they have used their “21 Money.”

“They wanted to either confirm or dispel the rumor that people use it irresponsibly,” Fullerton said. “It moved from there to what is really the best way to gather that information. Is it a survey or to have focus groups? The decision by council was to do focus groups and invite people to those meetings to have a conversation.”

Tribal Council wants to examine what the Tribe is doing to help young Tribal members be more financially responsible, as well as re-assess the intent of the Minors’ Trust Fund money and is that intent being achieved, he added.

Fullerton, who spent many years as the Social Services Department manager for the Tribe, said he has seen good and irresponsible things happen to Tribal youth when a lump sum of money suddenly becomes available to them. Considering he worked in Social Services, the cases tended to tip more toward the irresponsible, he added.

Tribal youth today are receiving as much as $100,000 in “21 Money,” considering they are receiving funds that have been invested, added to and accrued interest for 18 years. Once Tribal members turn 18, they start receiving quarterly per capita distributions and can access their “21 Money” only under limited circumstances – educational expenses and purchasing a house -- before they reach 21 years of age.

Fullerton said one option might be to offer increased financial literacy education for Tribal youth as they are growing up. Previous efforts by the Tribe to offer voluntary, web-based financial literacy classes were infrequently used and eventually discontinued, he said.

In addition, Fullerton said, the Tribe will have to tackle how to make any classes or programs that might be adopted available to Tribal members who do not live in the Grand Ronde area.

Planning Director Rick George said his research into what other Tribes are doing found that about a dozen Tribes have recently re-evaluated how they manage their programs that are similar to the Minors’ Trust Fund.

“They have worked to provide better service and protection for their Tribal members,” George said. “They have worked to provide more tools to successfully handle receiving that much money at a young age.”

George said that one Tribe has included intense financial literacy classes at its high school and Tribal youth must meet certain benchmarks to receive their funds. Those who fail to meet the benchmarks see the age at which they can receive their money moved until they are 25 or 30 under the assumption that the older they are the more responsible they will be with the money.

The community meetings are for enrolled Tribal members and families 18 years of age or older.

“These conversations will potentially drive policy decisions,” Fullerton said. “What level of responsibility do we have as a Tribe in preparing people to hand over that money?”

Three additional meetings will be held in Eugene, Salem and Portland in April and May. Tribal Council approved moving $8,000 from contingency to pay for hosting the sessions.

For more information, call 503-879-2275 or 503-879-2165.