TAHLEQUAH – In the March 15 Community Services Committee meeting, Tribal Councilors were updated on the Cherokee Nation’s continued COVID-19 emergency assistance program and tax return services provided by the Commerce Services. 

Human Services Executive Director Jennifer Kirby provided information on what qualifies a CN citizen to receive COVID-19 relief funds.

“It’s based on household size, because we have a large number to serve,” Kirby said. “We’re basing it more off of food insecurity and then also offering other programs within our department that could possibly help with other issues that are going on in the household and then asking them to please at the time to reach out to us or let us know what the specific needs are.”

Kirby said for someone to get the full $500 amount that is offered, at least seven people should be living in the household. Additionally, she broke down the two-phase process the application goes through before getting approved.

“So phase one initially just takes a look at: does the address look correct; is there citizen ID and is it correct; spelling; emails; things of that nature,” she said. “Have they received assistance previously? All of those things will be looked at in the first level. And the second level takes a little bit of a further look to make sure all of those things are filled in that maybe the first level missed. And make sure we have an assistance level or an amount on there as well. Then it goes on to the next step for payment processing.”

Chief of Staff Todd Enlow said that if a person is approved for funds they should be getting a notice that they are getting a payment processed through Chase Bank. He said the tribe has attempted to inform people who may not have seen previous notices about payments and to look for those in a text or email about what their next steps should be to secure the payment.

He said the $7 million set aside for the emergency assistance program is nearing depletion with about 6,300 people securing payments in the first round, 4,000 to 5,000 people in the second round, and another 6,300 in the third round.

Also during the meeting, Commerce Services Executive Director Anna Knight said through March 11 the tribe has helped with 965 income tax returns. She added that the Oklahoma Tax Commission has provided an extension for people to get their taxes completed. 

“The IRS and the Oklahoma Tax Commission have extended tax returns for Oklahoma to June 15,” Knight said. “That’s the new deadline base because of the winter weather, that really only affects Texas and Oklahoma. So we’ve added a couple of weeks to our regular appointments. We’re going to try and stop doing taxes on April 30. We’ll still try to help people if we can but that’s when MAP (Mortgage Assistance Program) starts picking up as well.”

Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd asked Knight about CN citizens living on the reservation and employed by the tribe or a tribal entity if they are exempt from state taxes, and if they are able to file that in their tax returns.

“We suggest everybody contact a tax professional for determination on how they should file their taxes individually,” Knight said. “So we’re not providing any kind of guidance to anybody. If they choose to claim their exempt tribal income then we will do that, if that’s what they want us to do, and then we’ll provide them with the documentation and print their tax returns out for them, and then they’re going to have to mail it in with all of the documentation.”