By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians can now take a loan, up to $500/month, against their per capita distribution to help with emergencies or to help makes ends meet within a household. Tribal Council passed Res. No. 258 (2016), which was submitted in May by Principal Chief Patrick Lambert, during the last day of Annual Council on Monday, Oct. 31.
Following the vote, Chief Lambert wrote a statement, “The issue has been something I have been working towards for years. Every day, I see our Cherokee families work hard and oftentimes still struggle to make ends meet. This new initiative will now allow for tribal members to receive a loan advancement on their per capita every month to help make ends meet.”
According to the legislation, the loans may be made during ten months of the year with June and December being exceptions due to the fact that regular per capita distributions are given during those times. Download Per Capita Loan Program Guidelines
On Wednesday night, Chief Lambert announced that the loans are now available. He related that staff was on hand taking loan applications on the morning of Thursday, Nov. 3, and the first checks are set to be cut on Thursday, Nov. 10.
Although not specifically stated in the legislation, the guidelines set forth state that the loans are for those EBCI tribal members 18 years and older, and Chief Lambert stated that income taxes will be paid in June and December as usual. Going forward, loan applications will be available the EBCI Finance Office.
During discussion on the issue on Monday, Chief Lambert commented, “The wrinkles on this that were of concern to start out with have been ironed out.”
He said many were concerned that it would negatively impact elders receiving supplemental income and services from Social Security, Medicaid, and other programs.
Chief Lambert proposed this question to the Social Security Administration who answered him in a letter which he passed around to all Tribal Council representatives. “Loans are not considered income. So, therefore, this would not impact individuals on a monthly basis…”
He then told Council of the difference such loans could have to young families and elders alike. Chief Lambert gave the scenario of a young married couple needing assistance to help get going with monthly expenses. “That’s an extra $1,000 coming into that household. It could be life-changing….I’ve had several elders tell me as well that they have a difficult time making ends meet on a month-to-month basis just on their Social Security check. An extra $500 a month can be life-changing for them as well to help make the power bill and grocery bills.”
Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy thanked Chief Lambert for contacting the appropriate federal programs to get questions answered. “The overall opinion in the community of Big Cove is yes. They would like to have the opportunity.”
She said previous questions about where the loan money would be spent are not the concern for Tribal Council. “It’s none of our business where anyone spends their money, and I don’t want to hear anybody tell me today or try to convince me that giving people money will cause people to overdose and die. That happens anyway, and it can happen on $5 any day of the week, not just per cap day. So, let’s stop associating people doing drugs on per capita day.”
Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha cited Section 117-24 – Loans to Tribal members as his opposition to the legislation. That section states, in part, “Neither the Tribal council nor any Tribal committee appointing or spending Tribal funds shall authorize or approve personal loans of Tribal funds to Tribal members or co-sign or guarantee loans.”
He commented, “I agree with the intent, but I don’t see the plan. I’ve got to find out exactly what we’re obligating this money for until the time being when we do get the funding from the casino. Where are we taking it from? Because, it’s got to come from somewhere.”
Erik Sneed, EBCI Secretary of Finance, told Council that funding comes from the casino on a monthly basis. “So, because of that, there’s always a rolling value that exists in the actual per capita account…“We get distributions from the casino constantly.”
On how the program will roll out, Sneed noted, “We don’t know how many folks are actually going to come out and ask us for it, but we feel reasonably confident that there is a funding source there that can be used to basically carry this, and at that point, it is truly a loan of their own money.”
Yellowhill Rep. E. Ensley agreed with Rep. Wachacha on the Sec. 117-24 issue and said, “I don’t think we can pass this until we bring in the amendments to the Ordinance. I support the idea, but I think we need to amend those ordinances before we can approve.”
Chief Lambert stated, “I think the ordinance specifies loaning of tribal money. This is loaning of per cap money. And, it’s very clear that whenever that money hits here that it’s divided 50/50…so, that’s a loan of their own money so it’s not tribal funds.”
Birdtown Rep. Travis Smith agreed with Reps. Wachacha and Ensley. “I don’t think we’re loaning per capita money out. It’s loaning the tribal funds, and again, until we amend that, I don’t think we can press forward with that.”
He also said he would rather see the processes in place to approve all of it at once. “I still think it needs to be given a little thought as to how this is going to roll out.”
Yellowhill Rep. Anita Lossiah said this could be a chance to provide financial education for tribal members. “That might alleviate some of the need for this or maybe even provide financial planning to help prevent getting in such a bind.”
She made a motion to amend the legislation requiring those who receive the loans pass a drug test and participate in a mandatory personal financial assessment. The amendment was rescinded after discussion.
Big Cove Rep. Richard French said he would never agree to such a move. “If we want to go that far to say we can’t help these people with $500 of their own money, unless they get drug-tested, then let’s stop random drug testing and every pay-day Friday, drug test everybody around this horseshoe (Council representatives), every tribal member that works and gets a paycheck…”
Just prior to passage, Rep. Lossiah said she supported the legislation but just wanted to make sure proper guidelines were in place. “This is totally from an outcry in our community to try to implement a few more guidelines on this, and this is a loan. This is something that does have to be paid back. Usually, a loan comes with interest.”
Eight Tribal Council representatives voted for the measure with three voting against including: Birdtown Rep. Travis Smith, Yellowhill Rep. B. Ensley, and Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke. Vice Chairman Brandon Jones was absent for the vote.