By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The tribal leadership of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) has voted to provide a stimulus package to local businesses in the wake of COVID-19 closures. Tribal Council voted unanimously to pass Res. No. 171 (2020) during a specially-called session on Thursday, April 9.
The legislation states, “…the Principal Chief and Secretary of Treasury are authorized to make payments to qualifying businesses immediately based on the amounts of levy and privilege tax remitted during the 2020 fiscal year to date…”
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed, who submitted the legislation, issued a State of Emergency for the EBCI on March 18, and several days later ordered all non-essential businesses to close with the following exceptions: grocery and convenience/gas stations, hospital and health care services, food pantries and food banks, automotive repair services, pharmacies, mail services, sanitation services, banking institutions, residential maintenance and repair services, restaurants which were limited to take-out or delivery services only.
Res. No. 171 addresses the stress provided to local businesses due to closures and states, “…while these measures were necessary to protect the health and well-being of the Tribe, the measures had a significant impact on small businesses located on tribal lands that are vital to the local economy.”
To qualify for the stimulus, a business much be licensed by the Tribe, have the primary place of business located on EBCI trust lands, and have “made payments of levy and privilege tax to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians during the fiscal year 2020”.
Per the legislation, payments will be made to qualifying businesses based on the total value of levy and privilege tax they have paid to date this fiscal year:
* less than $1,000 = 100 percent of tax remitted
* $1,001 to $5,000 = 75 percent
* $5,001 to $10,000 = 65 percent
* $10,001 to $20,000 = 55 percent
* $20,001 to $30,000 = 45 percent
* $30,001 to $40,000 = 35 percent
* $40,001 to $50,000 = 25 percent
* greater than $50,001 = 15 percent
During Thursday’s discussion, Chief Sneed said, “The impetus for this resolution is really quite simple. On the Boundary, small businesses have been the backbone of our economy for decades…”
He said that prior to gaming, “…the main funding source for operations here at the Tribe was tribal levy derived by small businesses and privilege and excise tax.”
He added, “What we’re trying to do is to ensure that once this crisis is over and the economy is opened back up again, that the small businesses that are here on the Boundary will be able to open back up and stay operational.”
Cory Blankenship, EBCI Secretary of Treasury, who noted there are 220 businesses licensed by the Tribe, said, “Year-to-date, we have collected $6.4 million in levy and privilege tax, so the levy fund is just over $11 million. Those are the only two forms of taxes that are collected and remitted to the Tribe so that is the only mechanism we have to provide some type of stimulus to the businesses.”
Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle said, “Before 1997, this is all we had to depend on. The 220 businesses on the Qualla Boundary – that’s what people came for to visit here and spend their money as a tourism town…I’m in favor of helping them. We’ve got enrolled members who own the businesses and some enrolled members that work there. I think we’re killing two birds with one stone here in trying to help these businesses because if you don’t, they’re going to fold.”
Chief Sneed added, “There are businesses that are owned by enrolled members. We have businesses that employ enrolled members. But, keep in mind, every bit of it trickles down because even if the business is not owned by an enrolled member, they are leasing from an enrolled member. If that business goes under, and they go bankrupt and they fold, then there are no lease payments going to that enrolled member who is the possessory holder of that land as well. The bigger picture, at the end of the day, all of this benefits tribal citizens because if the business folds or don’t make their lease payments, I can assure you that those people who are possessory holders count on those lease payments to come in on an annual basis.”
Another part of the legislation “authorizes the allocation of $250,000 from the fund balance of the General Fund to the Sequoyah Fund” for the purpose of making “grants to small businesses to assist in the preservation of employment during and post-closure of non-essential businesses on the Qualla Boundary”.
To qualify for a grant, businesses must meet the following criteria as set forth in the legislation:
* Be a business licensed by the EBCI
* Located on the trust lands of the EBCI
* Have 50 employees or less
* Preference will be given to employers who employ EBCI tribal members
* Be a business affected by the Boundary and non-essential business closures
* Businesses with 30 days of payroll being greater than $10,000 are eligible for a grant no larger than $10,000
* Businesses with 30 days of payroll being less than $10,000 are eligible for a grant no larger than $5,000
* All grant funds must be used “to preserve the employment and well-being of employees through the Boundary and non-essential business closure”
Vice Chief Alan B. Ensley noted, “My family grew up running small businesses and craft shops, and I’ve supported small businesses. To run a small business is a struggle every day when times are good. So, I support this resolution.”
Secretary Blankenship related that businesses will have to apply for the stimulus package.