Government , Health

Osage leaders work to move government forward during pandemic

Federal relief can’t come fast enough for Indian Country.

Tribes will receive $8 billion from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act. President Donald Trump recently signed the bill into law.

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said it has been “all hands on deck” in terms of gathering the necessary information and figures needed to secure the maximum amount for the Osage Nation.

“We’ve been reaching out and having communications with federal agencies, including the USDA, Department of Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the CDC, the Department of Justice, and other federal agencies,” Standing Bear said. “I can tell you that there are daily phone conferences and we have mobilized our staff that is knowledgeable with grants and with budgets. That includes our grant department, strategic planning department, compliance department, our Treasurer, Controller, director of operations, and our chief of staff, and I have been on many phone conferences.”

“It’s like drinking water out of a fire hose.”

He said the funding from the CARES Act will be distributed to tribes no later than April 26. He said the distribution date is timely. On April 1, the Osage Casinos made what could be their last full distribution to the Nation’s executive branch. This distribution ensures the government continues to run without interruption through the month of April.

He said on Monday, April 6, tribal leaders will call in with the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association and tribes will get an update on the gaming compact situation with Gov. Kevin Stitt. He said they will also discuss possible reopening dates or push back reopening dates. He said some tribes have been floating dates around in May to reopen.

Standing Bear said before the outbreak of COVID-19, he and his staff were scheduled to meet with Department of Interior officials in Washington D.C. to discuss land-into-trust applications for parcels in Pawhuska and Bartlesville. He said those discussions will continue next week via conference call.

“The casinos, what their status is with their employees may be different than what we’re going to do with our nation employees,” he said. “A lot of what we’re doing depends on Congress approving the recommendations we’ve been making on use of funds such as the congressional building fund for $900,000, some of the retained revenue fund that’s left over from 2019 and accessing the permanent fund, which all requires congressional action.”

Sponsored by Congresswoman Brandy Lemon, ONCA 20-27, is an act to reassign by authorization and appropriation $900,000 from the Capital Assets Fund to the executive branch. ONCA 20-26 (Lemon), is an act to authorize and appropriate $1,406,000 from the Retained Revenue Fund for the Public Health State of Emergency.

Due to Coronavirus fears, Congress adjourned their session today until Wednesday, April 8, at 10 a.m. The Congress briefly discussed ONCA 20-27 and ONCA 20-26 and said they would consider the legislation on April 8.

HUD Funding

The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced $200 million in Indian Housing Block Grants to tribes and their housing entities to help in their response to COVID-19.

The Osage Nation received $396,041.

Indian Housing Block Grants primarily benefit low-income Native American families. The amount of each grant is based on a formula that considers local needs and housing units under management by the tribe, according to a HUD news release. Eligible activities for the funds include housing development, operation and maintenance, modernization of existing housing, housing services to eligible families and individuals, housing management services, crime prevention and safety activities, and model activities that provide creative approaches to solving affordable housing problems in Indian Country.