Since the Puyallup Tribe's current per capita program began in 2002, these monthly payments have helped members pay monthly bills, purchase groceries, care for their children and gain more financial security overall. Through the Tribe's Revenue Allocation Plan (RAP), the program has been carefully designed to maximize the benefit to each member.
The Tribe's RAP was designed by the Tribal Council and provides strict guidelines regulating how per capita money is divided and distributed to members. Because the Tribe uses gaming money to fund much of the per capita program, it is required by federal law to submit a RAP for approval by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, providing descriptions of how the Tribe's gaming revenue will be used. The Tribe's RAP states that 40-55 percent of its gaming revenue be used in the per capita program.
"The Tribe does use gaming revenue for several purposes, including operating tribal government, economic development, providing for the welfare of its members and per capita payments," said Law Offices Director John Bell.
Per capita funds are also regulated by the Tribe's own budgeting and planning process. Important considerations made by council include significant loans taken out to fund gaming expansion projects, along with a rapidly growing membership. "The Tribe has been paying down regularly on its loan, and finances are in great shape, but this is a factor the Tribe takes into account when it talks about spending of all types," John Bell said.
Council approves each month's per capita distribution to the membership but there is no written agreement that requires the Tribe to make these payments. "No future is guaranteed, but council is striving to maintain payments as they stand today," Controller David Peterson said. "As long as the Tribe's businesses and gaming operations continue to work at a sufficient level, council will continue to strive to make these payments."
In order to strengthen its ability to take care of its membership and growing population, the Tribe continues to diversify its revenue sources through establishing new businesses and maximizing gaming revenue to ensure the per capita program succeeds in caring for the membership for generations to come.
Providing standard monthly payments allows each member the freedom to use the money as they see fit. Although the RAP does not allow any member to access funds in advance, it also precludes creditors from requesting that funds be sent directly to them if a member owes money.
The RAP also allows each tribal member to choose the appropriate tax rate – 20 or 27 percent – that fits their own personal situation.
Although there has been much discussion regarding how the money is distributed to the members each month, council designed the per capita program to best meet the long-term needs of the membership. Although many people have expressed interest in picking up checks in person, for example, administrators require that members receive the checks by mail or direct deposit to ensure the money reaches the intended recipient, according to Per Capita Director Monica Miller. The per capita department has also been discussing a number of ideas including distributing pre-paid debit cards to reduce fraudulent check cashing, or the possibility of forming a credit union in the future.
Monica Miller says the overall goal of the per capita program is to ensure that members gain financial stability without relying on state assistance from the Department of Social and Health Services. "When we started the per capita program, it took many of our people off DSHS," Monica Miller said. "These payments are used by members to pay for groceries, utilities, transportation and mortgages on a monthly basis."
Today, members receive a distribution of $2,000 gross per month, with half of each child's payment distributed to parents or guardians in order to cover daily expenses. The other half is placed in a trust fund until the child turns 18, when they gain full access to the funds.