The Shinnecock Indian Nation, after tamping down a winter outbreak of COVID-19 at its Southampton reservation, expects the next round of federal stimulus funds to pump between $2.4 million and $6 million to the tribe to help it further insulate members from the disease and its financial impacts.
Bryan Polite, chairman of the Shinnecock Nation council of trustees, on Wednesday said the tribe's early calculations indicated the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion stimulus fund package could bring $2.4 million-$6 million to the tribe.
"It’s going to be the biggest investment in Indian Country by any administration ever," Polite said of the impact of the bill both nationally and locally. Last year, the tribe received about $1.8 million in CARES Act funding.
The new stimulus money, Polite said, would be used to expand programs started last year that helped tribal members with rent and utility bills, bought students computers for virtual learning, paid for grocery cards and health care, and helped fund tribal government salaries, including for security. "If we didn’t get that support from the government we would have had to lay people off," he said. The next round of funding also will be used to subsidize programs for the about 800 Shinnecock members who live off the reservation.
For most of 2020, the nation, through a series of measures including in-home food delivery, food banks, advanced testing and child care initiatives, managed to keep COVID-19 infections to fewer than five. But a winter outbreak saw the numbers jump to 19 through midwinter.
Vaccines have arrived at the reservation in recent weeks, Polite said, but wariness among tribal members has kept the number of shots given to around 220 of the tribe’s more than 800 on-reservation members.
"It’s just like the rest of the country," Polite said. "There’s a lot of misinformation and there’s always a hesitance to putting a needle in the arm." But he noted a large segment of the tribe’s elder population had been vaccinated, and education campaigns in coming weeks were expected to increase vaccination rates.
In addition to a direct payment from the federal treasury to assist tribal governments, the Shinnecock nation is expecting to receive separate housing assistance and health care assistance tied to the stimulus package, Polite said. And most tribal members are expected to receive direct payments of $1,400. Unemployment and poverty rates are generally higher on the Shinnecock reservation than on the rest of Long Island.
The tribe expects to hold its annual powwow in some form in September, Polite said. The four-day event, a vital revenue generator for the tribal government and members who sell wares and food, was canceled to outside visitors last year and conducted largely virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions.
"We’ll see what kind of program we can put together that keeps people safe," Polite said.