By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Power to the People program (Res. No. 544 – 2017) will not be implemented at this time. Tribal Council failed to garner the two-thirds vote required to override a veto by Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed during its Budget Council session on Monday, Sept. 18. The vote went as follows: 49 not to override, 39 to override, and 12 abstention.
Chief Sneed vetoed the legislation on July 25 and stated it would have cost the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians a total of more than $57 million over the next 10-year span.
During Thursday’s meeting, the issue was brought to the floor and Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy stated, “Mr. Chairman, I think that this issue deserves some discussion.”
Referring to a contentious debate on Thursday, Sept. 14 over the Vice Chief Special Election veto, Tribal Council Chairman Bill Taylor replied, “No, Teresa, this is partly how we got off track the other day, and I’m not going down that road again. That’s why I made the statement I did the other day…we’ve had discussion. It’s been on the Council agenda numerous times. We’ve had work sessions.”
Voting to override the veto were: Rep. McCoy, Big Cove Rep. Richard French, Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke, Yellowhill Rep. B. Ensley, and Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe. Voting against overriding the veto were: Painttown Rep. Marie Junaluska, Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha, Birdtown Rep. Travis Smith, Chairman Taylor, Vice Chairman Brandon Jones, and Yellowhill Rep. Anita Lossiah. Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose abstained.
In a three-page veto letter to Tribal Council Chairman Bill Taylor, dated Tuesday, Aug. 1, Chief Sneed wrote, “First, no plan was implementation of this resolution was presented. Because the implementation of the proposed program falls within my purview, I feel it is imperative to have an assessment of the needs of our seniors and to have a real cost of this program. My primary responsibility is to provide responsible stewardship of all tribal assets. Second, upon consideration of this resolution, it was determined that the cost of this resolution is considerable, an estimated at nearly $4.2 million per year. If that cost was calculated over the next ten years with an aging population, that total would be more than $57 million.”
He added, “Our Tribe is committed to helping our senior citizens and that commitment is expressed in the $14 million currently budgeted for tribal services which includes programs specifically for senior citizens.”
According to information included in the veto, Tribal Enrollment reported that as of July 25, there were 2,137 EBCI tribal members who would qualify for the program. Table 5 of the veto shows the Projected Power to the People expense over the next 10 years and estimates that in 2017 the total would be $4,198,620. Using Tribal Housing H.E.L.P. senior growth figures, Chief Sneed estimates that the number of qualified individuals will grow to 3,873 by 2026 for a total of $7,203,780 that year.
The Power to the People legislation (Res. No. 544) was originally submitted in April by then-Principal Chief Patrick Lambert. The resolution states in part, “Many elders struggle to pay their monthly bills and are faced with the difficult choice of paying certain bills, while leaving other bills to fall behind…our Tribe has grown and established many services and programs to help enrolled members, and any program that will benefit and assist our Tribal elders should be given consideration and implementation whenever possible.”
This legislation gives a vastly different figure of those eligible for the program. “There are approximately 1,150 enrolled senior citizens in the five-county service area of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians that are eligible for services provided by the Tribe,” the resolution states.
When first introduced in April, then-Chief Lambert commented, “We do a lot of things for our elders, but we should be pursuing all we can for our elders. I think this is a good way for us to show our appreciation to our elders, also to help take care of our elders who are having to take care of others in their homes, and also to help those elders who are struggling day-to-day to make ends meet.”