Citizens of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe are eligible for direct COVID-19 relief funds from their tribal government. The money comes from the $10 million fund allocated to the Eastern Shoshone Tribe through the federal government's massive coronavirus stimulus bill known as the CARES Act.
During an online address, Eastern Shoshone Business Council Chairman Vernon Hill said the council had set aside much of the federal funding for "emergency living assistance" payments.
"[The tribe] has thought about this a lot. We'll be able to give each of our tribal members about $800 a piece, and we're looking at trying to disburse that out in July," Hill said.
Tribal citizens will need to fill out an assistance form by June 26 to receive the aid by July 1. Funds will be distributed via the Shoshone Credit Program, however tribal leaders say the $800 payment is not a loan and will not need to be paid back.
The announcement came after the Northern Arapaho Tribe's Business Council announced that more than a quarter of the $19 million it received through the CARES Act would be paid out directly to tribal citizens. Northern Arapaho tribal citizens will receive $500 relief checks in early July.
Leaders of both tribes say they are allocating the funding in accordance with federal guidelines, which require spending to be directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the U.S. Department of Treasury has not issued clear guidelines on whether tribes are permitted to distribute their CARES Act funding via direct per-capita payments to tribal citizens.
In a May 29 letter to the Treasury department, National Congress of American Indians CEO Kevin Allis said the lack of clarity is putting tribes in a vulnerable economic position.
"If the Treasury Inspector General later deems these expenditures disallowable, Tribal governments are subject to recoupment of funds and their citizens may be subject to individual tax burdens and potentially Internal Revenue Service audits," Allis wrote. "Subjecting Tribal governments and citizens to such a risk is inequitable particularly when they are experiencing unprecedented economic distress."
Chairman Hill of the Eastern Shoshone Business council said the tribe is keeping a paper trail to ensure that the payments don't violate federal guidelines.
"What we're looking at is to make sure that we don't end up on the wrong side of the feds there and end up paying this money back," Hill said.
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