During a two-day special session, the Seventh Osage Nation Congress unanimously approved legislation requiring all federal and non-tribal funds to be appropriated by the Legislative Branch as the Nation is slated to receive $108 million in federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act.
On May 26, Congress passed bill ONCA 21-49 (sponsored by Congressional Speaker Angela Pratt) which amends Osage law regarding authorization to expend non-tribal funding. The amended law now reads: “Non-Tribal funds shall not be drawn from the Treasury of the Osage Nation, except by appropriation.”
The next day, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear signed ONCA 21-49 into law, which will take effect in two months. The bill’s passage comes following two days of discussion and debate among Congress members on how to move forward regarding the $108 million and any pending/ proposed plans to spend the money.
“By this legislation, the Osage Congress will appropriate all money from the American Rescue Plan Act,” Standing Bear said in a statement. “I am signing this legislation with the assurance from the Osage Congress that we will work together expeditiously for the benefit of the Osage people.”
The statement added: “The Osage Nation Executive and Legislative branches are committed to ARPA funds being used to support on-going and future tribal projects to benefit the Osage Nation and its constituents,” which will be the subjects of future Congressional sessions.
During the May special session, Pratt said going forward “boils down to communication” regarding the ARPA funds because “this is a lot of money coming in and with oversight responsibility, I realize it’s not an annual operating budget for the Nation, but this is once-in-a-lifetime monies coming in ... There’s a lot to talk about, there’s a lot in Indian Country ... I want us to set the example of communicating with each other.”
In his special session executive address, Standing Bear referred to the Nation’s receipt of nearly $45 million in 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding and noted the 2021 ARPA funding will come with its own set of federal guidelines for spending and those are still being reviewed by the Nation’s COVID-19 task force and Executive Branch legal counsel.
In his remarks, Standing Bear said: “The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, is a $1.9 trillion federal appropriation passed by the United States Congress and signed into law on March 11, 2021. The Executive has been working with our attorneys, advisors, and staff since before the first version of this bill was proposed in January of this year. The American Rescue Plan Act, ARPA for short, comes with a set of rules different than the CARES law. I emphasize the word law, because both CARES and ARPA are federal law, with federal rules, federal guidelines, federal reporting requirements, federal deadlines, and serious consequences for misuse of this money.”
“Before I report on the projects and eligibility analysis we have worked on diligently since January, let me share with you what we did with the CARES federal appropriation, although we have reported this to you before. I do this because the calling of this Special Session of the Congress for the subject matter listed, is taken by the Executive as a lack of confidence by some, or maybe even all of the Members of this Congress in how we spent the federal appropriation from CARES. It is important for you to know that I am confident in the guidance from our CARES Advisory Team, who are now the same people for our ARPA Advisory Team. You have heard their names before: Osage Nation Attorney General Clint Patterson, Osage Nation General Counsel Terry Mason Moore, United States Treasury Tribal Advisory Committee Member Lacey Horn, outside Legal Counsel Dean Luthey, and Washington, D.C. Legal Counsel David Mullon.”
In revisiting CARES Act funded projects, Standing Bear noted those endeavors include:
• A meat processing facility now open and serving our people
• A state-of-the-art greenhouse and aquaponics facility
• Securing food resources at the Osage Nation Ranch with miles of fence, bison and cattle for food production and needed infrastructure
• More than $13 million dollars to individual Osages and small business owners
• Resources for the “incredible work” of ON/ Wah-Zha-Zhe Health Center health providers
Regarding the 2021 ARPA funding, Standing Bear noted the following:
“On May 10 we were informed on how the $20 billion in ARPA federal government dollars for tribes would be distributed. First, $1 billion dollars is set aside to be split equally across all 574 federally recognized tribes. The remaining $19 billion dollars is allocated to all Indian Nations based on membership enrollment and tribal employment. For Osage Nation employment numbers this includes both Osage Nation employees and all Osage-owned entities. 65% of the $19 billion dollars (which is $12.35 billion dollars) is distributed by membership enrollment.”
“Osage Nation membership was submitted as 22,925 and our share of the $12.35 billion dollars is be based on that certified submission. On Wednesday, May 19, I was informed Osage Nation received our share of the $1 billion dollars and the 65%. This amounted to $108,375,827.59. I promptly notified the Speaker and Second Speaker of this event. We currently only have the interim rule for use of ARPA money and this rule is 151 pages long. We will have the final rule, several weeks from now. After that, the United States Department of Treasury will issue what is called FAQS, which stands for Frequently Asked Questions. These FAQS provide more detail on federal guidance and will further change and evolve what we can and cannot do with this money.”
Standing Bear also noted: “There are additional ARPA funds coming to the Osage Nation through the Indian Health Service, BIA, HUD and other sources. We are working to have these supplemental funds working in conjunction with our share of the $20 billion coming directly from United States Treasury.”