Around $38 million came to the Blackfeet Tribe in the first round of COVID-19 funding, called the CARES Act. A full accounting of the funds and where they were spent is to be found in this week’s edition of the Glacier Reporter on pages A14 and A15.
While the report is very complete, Blackfeet Treasurer Tinsuwella Bird Rattler noted some items of particular interest.
For example, Blackfeet Housing received $1.4 million that was partly used to clear all the tenants’ old debts. “Everyone was cleared because there are multiple families in one home,” Bird Rattler said. Funds were also spent on personal protective equipment and for digging graves.
“Some $500,000 went to renovate houses to keep them clean and sanitary, and for heating sources for those in quarantine and who were isolated.”
While many frontline workers got hazardous duty pay from the COVID-19 funding, Bird Rattler said none of the Tribal Business Council members was compensated above their normal salaries.
“They had to meet every day, and they worked weekends for emergencies,” Bird Rattler said of the Council Members. “For probably half the year, Incident Command had two meetings per day.”
No additional pay was given to those working from home since their pay had already been budgeted, something not covered by the CARES Act. “People who were physically working got the hazard pay,” she said. “We had to hire additional people because people were scared; they were temporary workers who delivered food and medications, as well as compliance officers and testers. There was lots of hiring. People think $10 million in hazard pay is a lot, but we normally serve 800 employees which is usually $26 million so $10 million isn’t that much.”
Employees of Siyeh Development and Glacier Family Foods were singled out for hazard pay, particularly the latter because their employees had to come into work.
Bird Rattler and her crew also handled another wrinkle in the process, spending the funds before they expired. Having received the funding in June of 2020, they were expected to spend it all by December. “That was not much time to plan so when we got an extension, it was a big help to get it spent,” she said. The extension goes to the end of September 2021.
As for accountability, Bird Rattler said the funding was closely watched by government officials.
“At the start, they allocated $30 million to the Office of Inspector General,” she said. “Usually he only steps in if there’s an issue, but he was in there right from the beginning to watch expenditures. So we held off for the application process to back ourselves up. Other Tribes had to backtrack after the fact, but we kept it in line here.”