Tribe will still help its older members

Mashantucket - Anticipating the end of monthly distributions of gaming profits to tribal members, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council late last year enacted a law to protect the tribe's older, needy members.

The law provides for up to $50,000 a year in financial assistance for "elders," who are defined for the purposes of the law as those 60 and older as well as those who were at least 55 as of Dec. 31, 2010. The assistance was to begin Jan. 1, the law states.

It's estimated that about 80 members of the 850-member tribe are at least 55 years old.

Under the new law, elders are eligible to receive annual assistance equal to a "standard of need," with the amount of the assistance reduced by "offset income" the elder receives in excess of $25,000.

The law defines offset income as the sum of wages, salaries, tips and other taxable income as well as any other tribal payments. Those 70 and older are exempt from the income limitations.

The tribal council has established an initial standard of need, an amount that will be adjusted annually in accordance with changes in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, according to the new law, which is posted online as part of the 2010 supplement to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Laws. Tribal officials did not respond to requests to discuss the new law.

While the elders assistance law does not specify the amount of the initial standard of need, tribal sources indicate it has been set at $50,000. As an example, if an elder's offset income totals $30,000, the first $25,000 of which doesn't count in calculating the assistance, the elder would be eligible for payments totaling $45,000 ($50,000 minus $5,000), the sources said.

The elders assistance law is a response to the tribal council's decision months ago to end monthly distributions to adult tribal members at the end of 2010. The distributions, known as stipends or "incentive" payments, were made through December. According to sources, the payments had shrunk in recent years but still averaged between $90,000 and $120,000 a year as recently as mid-2009.

Councilors, in announcing the payments would cease, said the move was necessitated by "the financial challenges the Tribe has been facing over the past few years."

The tribe, hampered by the recession's effect on revenues at its Foxwoods Resort Casino, defaulted last year on a $700 million revolving bank loan and has also defaulted on several bond interest payments. It has been trying to restructure more than $2 billion worth of debt for more than a year.

According to the online posting of tribal laws, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Elders Financial Assistance Law was enacted Oct. 28 through a tribal council resolution.

"It is the policy of the Tribe to assure the essential welfare of its members by providing financial assistance to those Elders in need," the law states.

It could not be determined what steps the tribe has taken to assist younger adult tribal members, many of whom relied on the monthly distributions as their sole source of income. The roughly 9,000 employees at Foxwoods include more than 100 tribal members, according to tribal sources. Other tribal members work for tribal government.

The 2010 supplement to the tribal laws also lists, among other things, an occupational safety and health law enacted last March and a whistle-blower law, enacted in November, that protects from reprisal or fear of reprisal tribal officials and employees who disclose illegalities or improprieties.

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