Tribal Government & News
Tribe received more than $45 million in CARES Act funding in 2020
By Dean Rhodes
Smoke Signals editor
The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde received more than $45 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding in 2020, according to the federal government website www.usaspending.gov.
The Tribe received a combined $44 million from the Treasury Department in three payments and $1.56 million from the Department of the Interior.
The Tribe used approximately 42 percent of that emergency funding -- $19.3 million – to fund a COVID-19 Relief Payment program that sent a total of $4,400 to each adult Tribal member in eight monthly payments from April through November.
The relief payments approved on March 18 were designed to help Tribal members adversely affected by the nationwide economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the suspension of quarterly per capita payments in June and September after Spirit Mountain Casino closed for 74 days from mid-March through May 31.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented everyone with challenges that we couldn’t anticipate,” Tribal Communications Director Sara Thompson said. “The CARES Act funding has helped us provide for our Tribal members, students, community and staff during a year that has been constantly shifting and changing.”
Oregon’s nine federally recognized Tribes reaped about $200 million in direct payments from the departments of the Treasury and Interior in CARES Act funding, including $11 million to the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, almost $26 million to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and about $39 million to the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians.
The $2.2 trillion CARES Act was passed by Congress in March and Oregon Tribes initially received a combined $152.7 million in funding, according to a Harvard study that used Treasury’s publicly announced formula for determining payments to Tribes. The study estimated that the Grand Ronde Tribe initially received approximately $33 million in funding. The exact amount, according to the U.S. government website, was in the ballpark at $31.6 million.
After a hold on 40 percent of the $8 billion allocated for Tribes ended upon settlement of whether Alaska Native corporations were eligible to receive CARES Act funding, Treasury dispersed the balance to help Native American Tribes weather the COVID-19 storm.
In addition to making direct general welfare payments to Tribal members, the Grand Ronde Tribe has used the federal funding to start a technology grant to buy computers for Tribal member students who must attend school through distance learning, as well as for Elders to keep them connected with the Tribe and their families.
Funds also have been used to help the Education Department conduct outreach to Tribal students over the summer by sending out boxes filled with educational activities and hire additional employees through the end of 2020.
The Tribe’s Housing Department helped Tribal members with mortgage and rental assistance and funds have been used to pay Tribal employees who have worked on COVID-19-related activities or been affected by Tribal office closures caused by the virus.
Community Health hired two COVID-19 relief community health representatives using the funds and the Tribe purchased personal protective equipment for governmental and casino employees and guests.
Other CARES Act-funded projects have included improvements on the Rail Depot and partially funding a pilot child care program in Grand Ronde.
Most recently, the Tribe approved a contract using CARES Act funding to update the audio-visual equipment in Tribal Council Chambers that will allow virtual interaction with the membership.
The CARES Act funding did come with one very important stipulation – that it be spent by the end of 2020. Tribal Finance Officer Chris Leno declined to say how much unspent funds the Grand Ronde Tribe still has left.
However, many Tribes nationwide are hoping the new Congress will extend the spending deadline so that the unspent federal monies can be used to fund Tribal services into 2021.