Cherokee Nation endures shutdown, preps for more

02/07/2019 04:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor Harley Buzzard asks a question Jan. 14 during a committee meeting. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – Following the longest U.S. government shutdown in history, the Cherokee Nation is “trying to extract as much cash” as possible from federal agencies before a temporary funding measure expires Feb. 15.

“We survived the 35-day government shutdown without a hiccup, without any issues with payroll, with employment, with service-level reductions,” Treasurer Lacey Horn told Tribal Councilors Jan. 31. “I’m very grateful to say that we weathered that storm flawlessly.”

Approximately 68 percent of the CN’s fiscal year 2019 operating budget comes from federal funds, CN officials said.

“We are furiously – while the government is open right now – processing draw-down requests of our federal agencies trying to extract as much cash as we’re owed as possible,” Horn said, adding that the tribe is “in a fortunate situation where we were just trying to make sure that our citizens were getting taken care of at every level.”

The partial government shutdown lasted from Dec. 22 to Jan. 25. U.S. leaders have until Feb. 15 to strike a deal for government funding or face another shutdown.

“The tribe hopes that the president and Congress will continue to work together to ensure the government remains open,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker stated in a news release. “I also want to express gratitude to the federally-paid health care workers in the Cherokee Nation health system for continuing to serve the patients of our facilities during this time, even when not being paid.”

In the CN’s eight health centers and W.W. Hastings Hospital, 177 Indian Health Service employees continued to work despite not receiving part of their paychecks during the shutdown.

Shutdowns in late 1995 and early 1996 were “of great concern” to Native American leaders at the time, according to news accounts in the Cherokee Advocate.

“Back in ’95, we shut down for 21 days,” Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd said. “But back then we didn’t have the revenue we have today.”

Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. noted that, “Even though this is the longest government shutdown in history, this isn’t the first government shutdown.”

“At least in the last eight years, we have been very careful, even about hiring, because of the ongoing threat of government shutdowns,” he said. “And of course there’s been many.”

The CN was initially worried that its federally funded Food Distribution Program would cease at the end of January. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced presidential-backed plans to fully fund its nutrition programs in February.

CN Commerce Director Anna Knight said the shutdown caused funding delays related to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program. Sequoyah Schools Superintendent Leroy Qualls told leaders, “We’re doing OK where we’re at.”

“Our school funding is not affected because it’s kind of like public school,” he said. “You get the majority of it up front.”
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