By Melinda Munson

On May 31, Skagway Traditional Council (STC) began accepting applications to distribute up to $7,000 of CARES Act funding to eligible members. STC staff who reside in Skagway also qualify for the CARES money.

The payments are not sent directly to individuals, instead they are credited to a member’s account to cover housing, utilities, groceries and medical costs associated with COVID-19.

To qualify, members must have been been fully enrolled with STC before March 13, 2020, currently live in the United States, complete a Membership Update Form for 2020 and not have received CARES Acts funds from other sources, such as the Municipality of Skagway’s Emergency Assistance and Economic Stimulus Program.

Only those 18 and older are eligible.

“A lot of our membership had incomplete enrollment for their children,” said Jaime Bricker, STC board president, explaining why the Council didn’t include children in the payments. 

“The benefits of being a tribal member are worth the time and effort,” she said, noting that more families began working on their children’s enrollment paperwork since the program began.

According to Sara Kinjo-Hisher, tribal administrator for STC, the funds distributed by STC might stimulate the local economy but their main purpose is to “keep their (members’) standard of living.” 

Kinjo-Hisher explained that as minorities, members are more likely to be financially insecure and must work harder than their non-minority counterparts to achieve financial stability.

“We didn’t want the pandemic to hinder that (progress),” she said.

Members do not need to live in Skagway to receive the funds. 

“We have tribal citizens we serve who don’t live here,” Kinjo-Hisher said.

The one-time application allows members to decide how much they want credited to each account. For instance, they can ask that a balance of $2,000 be put in their name at Fairway Market IGA and $1,000 be sent to Alaska Power and Telephone. Mortgage payments will be reimbursed while rent will be credited. Property taxes are not an eligible expense. The program covers STC members but not non-members who live in their household.

The program is first-come-first-serve and will continue until August 31 or the funds run out.

The STC serves Tlingit and Haida Indians, Alaska Natives and American Indians residing in the Skagway area. The STC’s mission is to “protect our tribal members, to improve our economic ability to sustain our community and to uphold tribal sovereignty and our tribal governing processes.” Approximately 63 adult members are currently enrolled in STC.

“STC is not a nonprofit,” Kinjo-Hisher said. “We are a federally recognized tribal government with sovereign rights.”

STC has other resources to help their members through COVID-19 including a grocery voucher program, which recently ended, and gift certificates to You Say Tomato for produce bags.

The Council also serves the entire community, providing sanitizer to businesses, giving free fish to residents and testing air quality and toxin levels in shellfish, among many other programs.

“When funding sources allow us to, we try to have programs that benefit the whole community since we all live in the same community as friends, family and neighbors,” Kinjo-Hisher said.