OPINION: Cherokee Nation protects elders in difficult time

BY CHUCK HOSKIN JR
Principal Chief
09/02/2020 11:00 AM
At the Cherokee Nation, putting elders first is simply our way of life. Each year the Tribal Council, the deputy chief and I make serving our elders a priority in the government’s budget. However, with new federal dollars in our COVID-19 Respond, Recover and Rebuild plan, we will be doing even more to help our elders get through whatever lies ahead. 

We’re committing over $45 million from these funds to not only avoid budget cuts in the CN’s elder programs, but to greatly expand what we can do for our elders for the rest of the calendar year to ensure our most vulnerable citizens’ needs are met.  

Although most of our Human Services programs are limited to our reservation boundaries and based on income, we’ve started with something that will help every Cherokee elder, regardless of where they live and regardless of their income: direct economic assistance.  

Any Cherokee elder age 62 or over, living anywhere, at any income level, can receive a $400 stipend to assist with costs associated with your own COVID response, such as food, cleaning supplies or anything else that helps relieve the financial burden associated with this pandemic.

To make it even easier, we have launched an online portal for this program available at cherokee.org

The Respond, Recover and Rebuild Elder Assistance Application deadline is Sept. 11. 

For elders living within the CN reservation boundaries, we are able to do even more. Low-income Cherokee elders living in CN are eligible for $1,200 in utility bill assistance. This payment expands on an existing program and means low-income elders can worry less about their utility bills and redirect their fixed incomes to other needs.  

Additionally, we realize there are cases where a low-income elder may be doing without air conditioning or a heater in Oklahoma’s extreme weather. So, our Human Services department is teaming up with the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation to ensure low-income elders with no other options have air conditioning in the summer and a heater this winter so they can safely shelter in their home, as the CDC recommends. 

COVID-19 regulations have forced us to suspend meal services at our senior nutrition sites across the CN, but we know the need is still there. As an alternative, we are providing ready-to-make meals that can be delivered to our elders. They can also safely pick up the meal kits if they prefer. This is on top of the more than tens of thousands we have served through the largest emergency food distribution program in Cherokee history. 

For some of our tribal citizens, regardless of age, the prolonged pandemic has brought economic devastation. We’ve added $5 million to our general assistance program for Cherokees in dire economic straits with nowhere else to turn. If you are struggling to make ends meet, our emergency assistance program can help.  

Our Human Services staff always has one goal in mind, and that is to help Cherokees who need a hand. That starts, of course, with our elders. Our Human Services staff works closely with our Career Services staff. That way, hard-working Cherokees who need immediate, short-term help can also receive job training and employment to help them in the long run. 

If you are in need of assistance or know an elder who needs help, please reach out. Call Human Services at 918-453-5422. 

Finally, if you believe as I do that our elders are precious, that they deserve our respect, that they are the reason we still have a thriving CN, then I ask that you put those thoughts into action. Call and check in on them and see what they need. I also implore you to pay attention to health experts to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing and wearing a mask. 

Together, we can all do our part to protect our elders. It’s the Cherokee way. 

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