Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

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Marcus White
Posted 4/18/19

NETT LAKE - Everyone is back on the job at Bois Forte two months after the government shutdown forced layoffs and sharp cutbacks in some tribal services.

Now, to lessen the financial strain in the …

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Back to business

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NETT LAKE - Everyone is back on the job at Bois Forte two months after the government shutdown forced layoffs and sharp cutbacks in some tribal services.

Now, to lessen the financial strain in the event of future shutdowns, tribal leaders and managers are working together to reshape how some finances are handled in order to build emergency reserves.

“We know we need to build reserves,” Bois Forte Chairwoman Cathy Chavers said. “One thing we are looking at is a restricted reserve for shutdowns and emergencies.”

To build reserves, the Tribe will work with Fortune Bay Resort Casino to see how some finances can be restructured.

Currently the tribe does not draw as much as they could from revenue generated by the Lake Vermilion resort to allow better access to grant programs while also allowing the casino more opportunity to reinvest and expand.

While the exact plans and target goals are still being discussed by tribal leaders, Chavers said the tribe plans to start building some reserves by this summer and hopes to have a fully-developed plan implemented by the next fiscal year.

Chavers said the tribe will also provide better financial data to each of the programs under its jurisdiction to give a more accurate picture of where funding is coming from.

One tactic to help better safeguard tribal finances from long-term shutdowns is already in place in the Bois Forte government, notes Chavers.

The tribe’s accountants generally work to get advanced funding from Indian Health Services and the Bureau of Indian Affairs if there is a risk of a funding suspension, due to a shutdown or other factors. Federal legislation may make those efforts easier. Chavers said allocations from the federal government rely on funding resolutions to keep money flowing. In part, that’s because the federal government rarely passes a complete annual budget anymore. Instead, Congress and the White House rely on piecemeal funding resolutions throughout the year. When lawmakers and the president can’t agree on a particular funding provision, money for affected programs can run out, forcing agencies and departments to shut down.

A bill moving through the U.S. Senate by New Mexico Senator Tom Udall (D) and cosigned by Minnesota Senator Tina Smith (D) seeks to provide funding for Native American tribes in larger lump sums throughout the year through a process called advanced appropriations. This would generally give tribes a greater financial cushion to help them weather government shutdowns.

Chavers supports the legislation, but noted the bill did not have bipartisan support.

She said she’s heard from other lawmakers in Congress that similar bills in the House would enact similar provisions for IHS and BIA programs, but were unlikely to advance until 2020.

Even if changes in law are eventually enacted, Chavers said the inherent uncertainty in Washington continues to challenge tribal planners. “We just don’t know what to anticipate in the future,” Chavers said. “Will it (a shutdown) happen again? Probably. How long it will last? We just don’t know.”

The latest shutdown took place over parts of last December and January, and was the longest shutdown on record.

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