Ute Mountain Ute Tribe members receive funds

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Members from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe received almost $12,500 as part of the distribution plan involving federal settlement money that was approved by its tribal council.

Under the agreement, adult tribe members have the option of taking a lump sum payment of $12,496.25 or to take the money in five installments.

The first installment, under the standard distribution plan, would be $4,000, that was paid out last Friday, Other $2,000 installments would be made in October, January, April and July with a final payment of $496.25 to be made in September 2013.

The $12,500 lump sum, called the personal distribution plan, is in addition to the $2,000 members received a few months ago, and the Notice of Distribution Plan adds the two sums together.

Under this option, tribal members are waiving their rights to enter into an individualized distribution plan and could incur additional tax liability or program reductions.

The individualized distribution plan option allows members to enter into the possibility of entering into an individualized distribution plan and requests the tribe to defer any standard distribution or other payments until they have had the time to discuss the plan’s options with the finance department. Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, who works for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Information Technology Department, said members still have some concerns involving the 28-percent tax that is being withheld from their distribution amounts, which amounts to about $5,000 per person.

The settlement totalling $1 billion between the federal government and 41 Native American tribes resolves numerous lawsuits alleging mismanagement of tribal money and trust land.

The total settlement to the tribe was close to $42.6 million, which was reduced to $41.06 million after attorney fees were paid, and another $3.72 million was deducted from the amount previously advanced from the trust for the initial per capita distribution.

The remaining balance of $37.34 million was taxed at 28 percent or almost $10.5 million.

Lopez-Whiteskunk said the members believe the tax rate should have been closer to 15 percent and are looking into the matter.

According to the Notice of Distribution Plan, minors will receive $1,900 a year for three years. Each minor will receive $100 a month, $200 for the Bear Dance and another $500 in August,

The remaining $7,000 will be placed into the minor’s trust account, but parents will also have the option to request the full amount of their children’s remaining distribution of almost $12,500 on Oct. 1, 2012.

Also upsetting to tribal members is the waiver and release they had to sign that reads no distribution will be processed without a signed agreement on the signatures page as well as initialed waivers and releases.

Lopez-Whiteskunk said she signed the release, but added she did not agree with the entire waiver. On the parts she disagreed with she wrote that she did not approve or agree with the stipulation.

Sarah Tallbird-Watts, who is heading the recall efforts against former tribal Chairman Gary Hayes, also said she signed the waiver as almost every other tribal member did because there was no other option.

General Counsel Peter Ortego confirmed that the members who submitted the necessary documents by Wednesday, July 18 would be eligible to receive distributions on July 20, but added any member can submit their questionnaires at any time to receive the distribution amount.

Like Lopez-Whiteskunk and Tallbird-Watts, Ortego thinks the 28-percent tax is pretty high and said this is the amount the federal government charges to employers who do not withhold taxes on a payor.

“I think we will know in a few weeks from the IRS on whether this has to be taxed,” he said.

Ortego said the tribe does not want to confess that this is a taxable resource, especially because it does not want these funds to affect Social Security benefits for those members who are collecting them.

Ortego said he believes that these distribution amounts should not be taxed, but is trying to get something in writing before doing anything. He said if these distributions should not have been taxed the members would be getting those funds back.

Reach Michael Maresh at michaelm@cortezjournal.com