The Ute Mountain Ute tribal council has agreed to divide up $4.4 million of federal CARES Act funding to individual tribal members.
Each of the 1,729 adult tribal members will receive $2,250 to assist with essential needs during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, said Ute Mountain Chairman Manuel Heart.
“The tribal members requested CARES funds for food and bills, and we passed a resolution for $4.4 million to help out,” Heart said Aug. 24 during weekly announcements on the Weenuche Smoke Signals Facebook page. “This is a fair distribution. We are doing the best we can to meet the needs of the tribal membership.”
In July and August, more than 500 tribal members signed a petition urging the tribal council to distribute a portion of the coronavirus relief directly to community members.
“I applaud all those who signed the petition. Your voices were heard, and I’m glad we did it,” said organizer Angelita Berry.
Of the assistance funding, $1,000 must be used to buy groceries and cleaning supplies, Heart said. Another $1,250 in emergency funds will be available for paying utility bills and auto needs.
Funding is being dispersed via monthly payments on debit cards through December, and through individual allocations based on needs.
When signing for the assistance funds, tribal members agree to spend the money for essential needs as indicated and turn in receipts, Heart said.
That is important, he said, because the funds are subject to a federal audit to ensure the money is used to support basic needs impacted by the pandemic emergency. If not used as intended, it may have to be paid back, Heart said.
Also, the tribe set aside $400,000 of the federal assistant to help with housing payments and put $90,000 toward propane needs for tribal members during the pandemic emergency.
Heart said the pandemic is still impacting the small tribe of 2,100 members, and that careful financial planning is needed to withstand potential long-term impacts in this time of uncertainty.
“We are not out of the woods, we are still in an emergency declaration and don’t know what will happen in the fall and winter. We have to work together, and carefully plan for the future. There is not yet a cure for this disease,” he said.
Financial investments to serve the tribe as a whole include improving internet broadband on the reservation, expanding the health care clinic, and a developing a grocery store in Towaoc.
The relief package provided $8 billion to be allocated among the 574 federally recognized Native American tribes and Native Alaskan villages. The money is part of the U.S. government’s $2.2 trillion package to help businesses, workers and health care.
Election in OctoberThe Ute Mountain Tribe will hold an election Oct. 9 for one open seat on tribal council.
Candidates are incumbent Lyndreth H. Wall, Prisllena Nightstarr, Shelly M. Lopez, DeAnne House and Marissa K. Box.