HELENA — The Chippewa Cree Tribe declared a financial disaster Tuesday due to the federal government shutdown, warning that nearly all tribal offices will be closed and programs halted if the budget stalemate in Congress isn’t resolved by Thursday.
The central Montana tribe already has cut back hours, furloughed staff and limited services after federal money for tribal programs was cut off following the Oct. 1 shutdown, spokesman Wade Colliflower said.
But the tribe’s financial outlook has turned dire as the shutdown has dragged on, causing tribal leaders to call for drastic measures if a deal isn’t reached by Thursday.
The tribe made the declaration Tuesday morning and created an emergency operations center to plan for the cutbacks, Colliflower said.
That has left those living on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation to hope for the best and brace for the worst.
“I think they are holding their breath hoping something will get done,” Colliflower said.
Many tribal programs are subsidized by federal agencies and others are paid for with tribal money that’s held by the Department of Interior and is now unavailable.
Most tribal workers already have been cut back to four-day workweeks, while office hours have been slashed and nonessential staff sent home.
The tribe’s General Assistance Program that provides aid for the poor on the reservation will no longer do so after Tuesday, and while the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program is accepting applications, there are no more funds available to distribute.
The Chippewa Cree’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is no longer taking applications.
Things get worse after Thursday, when tribal leaders plan to shutter nearly all government offices and services, including the tribe’s social services offices, Colliflower said.
The exceptions will be the reservation’s police department and health clinic, which will both be fully staffed, he said.
Senior citizens and the extremely poor will still receive meal deliveries, propane and firewood past Thursday, as the weather turns colder, Colliflower said.
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