What would you do if you were totally dependent upon a single monthly check of $250 to cover all your living expenses from rent, heat, electricity to food and then your check suddenly ceased arriving in your mail box without any explanation? What if you live on a reservation where there is 80-85% unemployment and your tribe is $60 million in debt? Add to the context the highest rates per population of child suicide in the world. Now imagine what goes through your mind when your single source of income becomes “invisible” and you already know you don’t have the gas to drive off the reservation to search for employment, you have no funds to find housing off the reservation, and you are the sole adult caretaker for your grandchildren. What is now going through your mind at this point?
The following information is directly from Anne Fields who has been in direct contact with people on Pine Ridge Reservation who are currently in precisely the situation presented above.
There is a new situation on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota (and presumably on other reservations) that is very dire and perhaps life threatening.
I am a white grandmother who has spent a total of 18 months on the reservation, including four months teaching in the Early Head Start program. I have friends who are directly affected by the problem and who are growing more desperate each day. So far my efforts to find information or help for them have been unsuccessful.
Each month the Bureau of Indian Affairs has been providing General Assistance grants (see below) to many residents who are desperately needy. On Pine Ridge approximately 940 people receive monthly checks of up to $250. These checks are often their only source of income and their lifeline.
In December 2012 no checks came. I spent several hours on the phone with officials at the local, regional, and national levels trying to find out what had happened. Eventually I ended up at the BIA Division of Human Services in Washington where I spoke with Bevette Hern at 202-513-7608. She told me that there had been new software which had a glitch that was holding things up. She said it was now fixed and that the Treasury would get a file transfer shortly and that the Agencies should have the money by the end of that week. This did indeed happen.
But then in March 2013 again no checks ever came and there were no notifications to the recipients. The Post Offices were besieged by people looking for their money. No checks have arrived for April 2013 and folks are seriously cold and hungry. They do not know if the money will ever come again. They have had no information from the BIA.
In an effort to try to get some information regarding these crucial funds, I tried to call Bevette to see if this is a permanent situation, only to find that she is no longer working there (even though her answering machine still uses her name). I spoke with someone who would only give her name as “Roberta” and who said that she knew nothing about the details, only that the money available for “Welfare” has been cut back. She told me that I needed to talk to the BIA Great Plains Social Services in Aberdeen, SD. I called them at 605-226-7351 and spoke with “Patti.” She told me that Central Office has not received any funds so they have nothing to give out. She recommended that I talk to the folks in Washington–the same people who directed me to call her office.
I have written to South Dakota Congresswoman Noem and Senators Johnson and Thune for clarification, but as of now I have heard nothing back from any of them.
BIA Human Services handles 6 components of Financial Assistance, which consist of:
1. General Assistance
a) An applicant must meet the criteria contained in 25 CFR 20.300 (Who qualifies for Direct Assistance)
b) Apply concurrently for financial assistance from other state, tribal, county, local, or other federal agency programs for which he/she is eligible;
c) Not receive any comparable public assistance, and
d) Develop and sign an employment strategy in the ISP with the assistance of the social service
worker to meet the goal of employment through specific action steps including job readiness and job search activities.
So, what should Anne Fields and these 940 people on Pine Ridge Reservation DO to get some information from the BIA and/or the Federal Government? Any suggestions? Even if you have no notions about how to deal with this continuing situation, please take a moment to send this information via your favorite internet social network sharing options.