Tribal citizens to receive direct assistance

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear on Aug. 3 approved legislation the Osage Nation Congress passed Aug. 2 by a vote of 11-0, with one member absent, to provide up to $2,000 of direct assistance to every eligible citizen of the tribe. The total amount of money appropriated through the legislation was $35 million.

The Osage Nation Congress appropriated the $35 million out of about $108 million that the nation had been allocated by the U.S. government through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The direct assistance measure that passed the Osage Congress was an amended version of a bill that Congressman Joe Tillman introduced, with Congressman Eli Potts and Congressman John Maker co-sponsoring it.

The original bill called for more than $46 million to make $2,000 payments to each of 23,248 citizens of the Osage Nation. A tribal fiscal analysis of Tillman’s proposal corrected the total number of Osage citizens to 23,315 and said that additional funds would be needed to make sure everyone received a payment.

The final version of the bill contained at least three amendments – the reduction of the total amount of money to $35 million, the insertion of the word “eligible” to describe the citizens who would receive payments, and the clarification that recipients would be paid “up to” $2,000.

An Osage Nation news release about the legislation said the payments will be targeted to citizens who “have experienced a negative economic impact” due to the COVID-19 health crisis. In the news release, James Weigant, who heads the Osage Nation’s COVID-19 Task Force, indicated the Standing Bear administration had been looking forward to this opportunity for providing direct assistance to Osage citizens since early 2021.

“It is proven that Indian Country is being hurt by COVID much worse than the rest of the U.S. population,” Weigant said in the Osage Nation news release. “That need is well defined. We have now developed a solid program to address that need, compliant with federal law and regulations, to continue to provide this much needed assistance to our Osage people during this global pandemic.”

Potts welcomed the approval of the legislation as a source of needed assistance for Osage citizens, but said he thought the bill should have been adopted and approved even earlier.

“We knew on May 27, 2021 that direct assistance payments to the Osage people were an allowable expense,” Potts said in an email message. “If everyone was in support of it as they claim… what took so long? This direct assistance helped people when they needed it the most. I’ll never understand why it was stalled so we could discuss luxury hunting retreats, basketball courts, and an outdoor sports complex before directly helping the Osage people.”

To be eligible for payments, Osage citizens must “attest to a negative economic impact,” and they must submit a completed and signed application for the assistance. The application does not require a notary public to act as a witness, and the process of receiving and approving applications began Aug. 4.

Osage Nation citizens can complete applications for the assistance online at www.osagenation-nsn.gov/cash-assistance, or they can download and print an application form at www.osagenation-nsn.gov/cash-assistance-information. Osage citizens can also call 918-287-5555 to have a copy of the application mailed to them, or they can physically visit the Osage Nation Welcome Center at 239 W. 12th St., Pawhuska.

The Osage Nation has chosen RT Consulting LLC to administer the direct aid program, under the supervision of Andrea Kemble, director of Osage Nation Financial Assistance. RT Consulting will process applications for assistance and send out confirmation notices.

The Osage Nation joined Osage County in using ARPA funding to make direct payments to individuals. Osage County officials last week completed the process of approving and making available for distribution a $2,500 one-time payment to each full-time employee as of July 1. Recipients of the county payments did not include elected officials.