With the continuing inflation situation causing price increases to goods and services, the Seventh Osage Nation Congress approved a 10% cost of living adjustment for the Nation’s government employees except elected officials and appointed staff.
The Congress voted 11-0 for resolution ONCR 22-01 (sponsored by Congressman Scott BigHorse) on April 20, which requested the 10% COLA for merited government employees. After preparations for the approximately 480 employee salary adjustments by the Treasurer/ Accounting Department, the Nation’s employees received their first paycheck with the 10% adjustment reflected on May 27.
The COLA will remain in effect through the current 2022 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The Eighth ON Congress will consider the FY 2023 government budgets at the Tzi-Zho Session starting Sept. 6.
BigHorse told the Congressional Appropriations Committee, which initially reviewed ONCR 22-01 on April 1, that the COLA idea came after he noticed the recent price increases for groceries and also after having conversations with Pawhuska Village residents who are employed, but still impacted by the cost increases to feed their families. BigHorse then contacted the Executive Branch to start discussing the possibility of a 5% employee salary adjustment before it changed to 10%.
After further research with Acting Treasurer Tyler McIntosh’s office, BigHorse said he was informed the Executive Branch identified unspent tribal funding that will be used to pay the adjustments and no Congressional appropriation bill would be needed in addition to the resolution.
During the meeting, Congressional budget analyst Jordan Fraser cited Osage law that “defines merited employees as all full-time and part-time employees of the Osage Nation shall be merited employees, including those with employment contracts.” The law also states Wah-Zha-Zhe Health Center employees, including those with employment contracts, are merited employees. Elected officials, Executive Branch-appointed staff, appointments, and independent contractors are not merited employees and the law also does not apply to business entities owned by the Nation.
Due to the current employee vacancy rate at the Nation, McIntosh told the committee that no additional appropriation will be needed to cover the added $561,000 in payroll and fringe benefit costs for the remaining fiscal year.
Second Speaker Jodie Revard, who chairs the Congressional Appropriations Committee, co-sponsored ONCR 22-01 and said voting “yes” for the bill was an easy decision. “This is something that we needed to address and it’s going to cost us money … We’re going to go forward and we’re going to see this increase along with the market study evaluations that are being ran right now in (Human Resources) … We also have other projects that we passed this session that are going to affect our overall expenses to the Nation. But I believe this one is also a priority because not many of our folks that work for our government are making over $80,000/ year or even $70,000 for that fact.”
Congressman John Maker said he supports the COLA for the employees “because it takes care of our employees, they are the backbone of our government. They are taking care of their families and that’s good because they probably also take care of their extended families and we have a lot of people in our Nation who are unemployed, living in poverty … Right now, we can do what we can, we need to pass this, anytime we can help our people with money – and if we have the resources – we need to do it.”
ONCR 22-01 passed unanimously with one absence that day from Congresswoman Brandy Lemon. Standing Bear signed the bill into law on April 25.
The resolution’s passage also comes as gas prices also continued to climb in addition to food costs. According to AAA, the national average price for a gallon of gas was $4.62 as of May 31 and Oklahoma’s average price was $4.15.