Cherokee Nation services intake increases amid pandemic

Waiting to shop for groceries, two clients wait outside the Cherokee Nation's Food Distribution building in Tahlequah.�In the second half of 2020, the CN provided directed assistance to a total of 125,300 citizens, not including the additional 112,000 Cherokee families helped through the tribe's emergency food distribution efforts. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

TAHLEQUAH -- When the COVID-19 virus hit the Cherokee Nation in March 2020, the tribe had to make adjustments to services and how it would still provide for the growing number of CN citizens seeking aid.

When schools and businesses were forced closed, the CN stepped in to aid individuals and families through its Respond, Recover and Rebuild initiative with funds from the federal government for tribal COVID-19 relief efforts.

"Our COVID relief efforts in 2020 served more than 30 times the normal volume of Cherokee citizens we would serve in an average year," Chief of Staff Todd Enlow said.

The RRR initiative used $40 million for education. Technology and clothing vouchers assistance was provided to approximately 42,000 Cherokee students, which included $400 technology grants to use for Wi-Fi or computer equipment, and $300 and $150 clothing grants.

Higher education assistance was provided to 4,700 students with a $750 technology grant to help them stay on track to a college degree during a difficult time.

The RRR elder assistance initiative utilized $45 million for elder programs, which included a $400 direct economic-assistance stipend and $1,200 in utility bill assistance to low-income Cherokee elders.

Nearly 30,000 elders over age 62 were provided emergency assistance and utility assistance was provided to 2,700 elders.

The CN Disability Assistance program provided $300 checks to CN citizens residing within the reservation who have disabilities as well as veterans with disabilities. In all, helping nearly 3,900 Cherokees.

"These programs were all provided through the Respond, Recover and Rebuild COVID-19 assistance initiatives implemented to help Cherokee citizens recover from the impact of this virus," Enlow said.

Enlow said in the second half of 2020, the CN provided directed assistance to a total of 125,300 citizens, not including the additional 112,000 Cherokee families helped through the tribe's emergency food distribution efforts.

Career Services clients also took a hit from the COVID-19 impact from business closures.

"We saw record-breaking unemployment rates and companies shutting down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic," Hunter Palmer, Career Services manager of economic development, said. "We know Cherokee citizens want to work, so Career Services developed programs that would help get them trained and get them back in the workforce."

Palmer said through the RRR initiative, Career Services was able to develop several short-term, customized training programs. The RRR initiative provided $7 million in funding, according to a previous Cherokee Phoenix article.

"We were able to help hundreds of Cherokee citizens with vocational training, re-entry, work experience, short-term training and on-the-job training programs," Palmer said. "In addition to that, we were able to provide more than 300 laptops for our clients who were taking online classes through our vocational programs."

More than $500,000 went to extend the tribe's Summer Youth Employment Program through December. Also, the tribal training program saw a $400,000 increase to provide more tribal citizens with day training opportunities. And $1 million was invested in a tuition assistance program for those that were interested in training at a career tech center, according to a previous Cherokee Phoenix article.

"We have made it a priority to provide services to Cherokees in need while ensuring they are safe," Palmer said. "During the pandemic, Career Services continued to provide services to Cherokees in part thanks to the use of digital technology, which has only amplified our ability to aid Cherokee citizens."