During the Aug. 25 special session, the Fifth Osage Nation Congress voted unanimously to appropriate $110,000 to the burial assistance fund to continue the service without the fund depleting.
According to an Aug. 9 message from the Executive Branch signed by Casey Johnson, ON Director of Operations: “Our office recently discovered the balance in the Burial Assistance fund had dropped below acceptable levels. An appropriation is required to replenish the fund. While it’s true the program received an unusually high number of claims from bereaved Osage families in June and July, knowledge of the account balance during the recent (Aug. 2-4) Special Session would have resulted in a timely appropriation.”
The Nation offers burial assistance for enrolled Osages to assist with burial costs after their loved ones die. The benefit’s maximum amount is $5,000 per person. Applications for burial assistance are submitted to the Nation’s Constituent Services Office and funding for the benefit is replenished as needed through tribal funding appropriations considered and approved by the Osage Congress.
At the special session, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear addressed the Congress on the issue: “To assist our people, we have created unique programs, whether it be through health care or education, our main goal is to help our people be healthy and prosperous. The Burial Assistance Program offers monetary assistance when a family member passes on. It is impossible to know how many deaths will occur and unfortunately for 2017, the Burial Assistance funds are nearly depleted. To maintain this assistance for our people, we are asking the Congress to consider an appropriation of funds to sustain the Burial Assistance Program until the end of the fiscal year.”
The $110,000 appropriation bill approved by Congress is ONCA 17-93, sponsored by Congresswoman Alice Buffalohead. The money will come from the general fund in the treasury, according to the bill.
The Executive Branch also said: “The day after the determination was confirmed by the Treasury (Treasurer’s Office), Executive leadership met with the Speaker (Angela Pratt) and Second Speaker (Alice Buffalohead) of the Congress to discuss the matter and determine the best course of action to ensure the flow of benefits from the program were not interrupted. All agreed to a Special Session on August 25th for the purpose of appropriating money to the fund.”
ONCA 17-93 received little discussion during a Congressional Governmental Operations Committee meeting to consider the special session legislation. Pratt also noted timing is important to notify the Congress of pressing issues as soon as possible for consideration of action to be taken.
The Executive Branch noted to Osage families: “From your family’s perspective, there will be no interruption or delay in the delivery of services. Upon approval of an application for the benefit, the Nation issues an award letter to the beneficiary, which is presented to the vendor (usually a funeral service provider) as a guarantee of payment. The vendor payments will be made about 30 days after submission of invoices instead of the usual two weeks. After the Special Session on the 25th, vendor payments will resume on the usual two-week cycle.”
For questions on the burial assistance benefit, contact Alecia Hutchins or Darian Lookout at the Constituent Services Office at (918) 287-5679 or Financial Assistance Director Jennifer Oberly at (918) 287-5560. The Constituent Services website contains forms and information on burial assistance and other office services at: www.osagenation-nsn.gov/what-we-do/constituent-services