Federal shutdown and the Cherokee Nation
By MEREDITH FRAILEY
Several Cherokee Nation citizens recently visited with me about their concerns on how the recent potential shutdown would have affected CN services and programs. The then-looming federal government shutdown had American Indian leaders scrambling to determine what a stalemate on Capitol Hill would have meant for their tribes and citizens. The federal government’s incidence often plays a vital role in everything from law enforcement, social services, health care to schools. Many tribes were not in a position to make up for the loss of government services.
During the Clinton administration and the 1995 federal government shutdown that lasted almost three weeks, the CN government was in a fragile financial position. Fortunately, today, the CN is positioned to withstand almost any crisis. The CN is not scrambling because our leaders have been positioning the government to withstand any anticipated federal shutdown. The CN financial group has analyzed all grants that are not forward funded and the amount of cash we would potentially need to cover those grants is approximately $2.7 million to $3 million a month. Because we have been conservative with tribal funds and have a contingency reserve in place, we likely can weather any shutdown for at least 60 days with no major impact to our cash flow. That is significant.
To ease the concerns of many citizens, I met with CN government group leaders and the principal chief for an answer I could give to the Cherokee people. They assured me that they had been preparing for a shutdown for quite some time. They were:
1. Constantly monitoring congressional appropriations required by the CN.
2. The principal chief recently issued a memo encouraging cost containment measures (e.g., limitations on travel, supply orders, filling vacant positions, etc.). This approach happened in all branches of government.
3. Monitoring cash flow to ensure available cash to support short-term obligations during a shutdown.
4. Involving the Tribal Council, if required, to determine which programs should be reduced or placed on hold if cash flow is unable to sustain programs funded by congressional appropriations.
The tribe’s cash flow is positive due to funds we receive from gaming, fees, taxes and our business entities. Additionally, due to conservative, prudent fiscal management and strong financial policies we are able to meet our cash flow needs and satisfy the statutory requirement established by the Tribal Council in 2002. I recently met with the CN treasurer and the Tribal Council financial officer. They assured me our cash reserve fund and line of credit meet the statutory requirement of 1.75 percent of appropriated funds due to the recent amendment to the 2011 fiscal year budget approved by the council. This ensures our contingency fund is protected and provides us the flexibility to meet such emergencies as a federal shutdown, weather conditions and other crises.
As I mentioned at a recent education summit, to be successful in meeting future challenges, regardless of whether you are a tribe, state, school, corporation, etc., you must have a vision and a long-range plan to accomplish that vision. For instance, Principal Chief Chad Smith’s vision of a happy, healthy people and the government’s 100-year plan, leaders are focusing on the people we serve in order to fulfill that vision. We have customized solutions to withstand potential emergencies. Our business boards, composed of astute Cherokee business people, also are mindful of their fiduciary duty to the Cherokee people and have included the chief’s vision in their long-range planning and are ensuring we are a self-sufficient government and people.
Perseverance, courage to make difficult decisions, foresight and pride have characterized the Cherokee people for centuries. Today, and in the future, as leaders make decisions that affect our present and future generations, these traits are a source of strength. After meeting with the principal chief, group leaders and our financial officers, I came away with an assurance that the CN could continue to protect core services while our federal officials played a dangerous game of chicken in creating a potential federal shutdown. Perhaps, they could learn from us.
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