Our people have endured hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many Cherokees are navigating governmental assistance programs for the first time. Throughout this crisis, we at Cherokee Nation have worked hard to deliver aid to our citizens who need the most help. We’ve provided food boxes for all who need it, direct financial support and utilities assistance for our elders and distance learning stipends for students.
Now I am proud to announce a new Cherokee Nation program for citizens with disabilities on our reservation. The Disability Assistance Program will help Cherokees with food, supplies or other expenses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the $9 million program, Cherokee Nation will provide a $300 stipend to tribal citizens with disabilities living on the Cherokee Nation reservation in northeast Oklahoma. This monetary aid, open to all Cherokees on the tribal reservation regardless of age or income, can help individuals and families get through this difficult health crisis.
The deadline to apply is Friday, Nov. 6. We strongly encourage Cherokee families to take advantage of this opportunity by applying though the online portal. The multiplying effects of economic hardships, isolation and unexpected needs experienced during the COVID-19 crisis can be difficult and distressing.
The challenge is even greater for many of our citizens with disabilities. We know many Cherokees with disabilities are having trouble finding reliable services or home health care because of the pandemic. Many of our Cherokee elders and military veterans live with disabilities, and these community members can also be at the highest risk from COVID-19. We hope this increased support will help alleviate some of the economic burden, prevent disruptions to needed services and make sure Cherokees get through this difficult period and back to normal life.
October is Disability Awareness Month across the United States, and we also recognize it every year in Cherokee Nation. We do this because we know that Cherokees with disabilities are treasured members of our community with much to contribute. Those disabilities, both visible and invisible, may create special challenges, but they don’t diminish any person’s worth. Like with our students and our elders, we want to make sure that the extra challenges of COVID-19 do not cause long-term harm for these valued Cherokees.
Funding for the disability assistance is part of Cherokee Nation’s COVID-19 Respond, Recover and Rebuild plan. Applicants must provide verification of disability through either Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance, Veterans Affairs, or Cherokee Nation’s vocational rehabilitation or disability employment initiative. If you qualify for this assistance, please sign up as soon as possible, as funding is limited on a first-come, first-served basis.
In addition to the new program, Cherokee Nation serves more than 625 citizens in the first continuous Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation program in Oklahoma. Offered through our Career Services Department, this program helps Cherokees with disabilities pay for training costs at universities, colleges and technology centers to gain skills and education that help them become or stay employed. We also provide a Disability Employment Initiative with federal grant funding to help participants gain work experience, on the job training and vocational opportunities.
Since COVID-19 reached Cherokee Nation seven months ago, we’ve continued to roll out new programs and harness new ideas to help Cherokee Nation citizens through the pandemic. We’ve deployed more than $35 million, contributed countless staff and volunteer hours, and helped more than 108,000 of our tribal citizens. COVID-19 has caused terrible suffering and loss of life, but I am inspired every day when I see our Cherokee people coming together to fight the pandemic. I know we will emerge from this hard time even stronger.
Chuck Hoskin Jr.