White Earth Housing tenants will receive several hundred dollars in credit toward their electric bills, thanks to a $100,000 emergency grant from the Minnesota Council on Foundations, in partnership with the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation.
“I’m stoked -- I’m really happy about it,” said Tribal Housing Director Dennis Jackson. “They can get some relief in these troubled times.”
Assistant housing director Virginia Anderson wrote the grant request, hoping to get $32,000 to provide some utility bill relief for tribal elders, she said. The foundation looked over the request, saw the need, and offered $100,000 instead, she said.
“We’re pretty thrilled about it,” she said. “I was actually driving down the road when they called me. I had to pull over and say ‘wait, I have to get this right.'"
It’s rare for a foundation to offer more than the grant application asks for, especially that much more, Anderson said. “I must have touched some hearts,” she added. “They said they were just astounded at how direct the request was.”
The money will help people get caught up on their utility bills and keep the power on, “because everyone is coming off the cold-weather rules” that prevent utilities from disconnecting customers during the winter months, she said.
“We got the funding letter yesterday, and we’re in the process of sending out the letters (to tenants) now,” Jackson said Friday, May 1. “They should receive the letters within the next week or so.”
The tribe maintains 445 low-rent housing units, and tribal elders will receive $300 credits, while others in tribal housing will receive $213 credits to their electrical utility provider, whether it’s Wild Rice Electric, Otter Tail Power, Itasca-Mantrap, Clearwater-Polk Electric or someone else, Anderson said. “It will be credited to their accounts,” Jackson said.
“It will really come in helpful to our tenants, with the casino closed and the tribe having to lay off people, they’ll need it now more than ever,” Anderson said.
Naturally, only tenants who pay their own electrical bills will receive the credit: It won’t apply to residents of some of the larger tribal housing facilities that cover utilities for tenants.
The money for White Earth Housing was designated by the Minnesota Council on Foundations, in partnership with the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, and a cross-sector advisory committee, which included White Earth in its third round of grantees as part of $1.2 million from the Minnesota Disaster Recovery Fund for coronavirus, according to a Minnesota Council on Foundations news release.
The only other tribe to receive grant funds was the Fond du Lac Band, which received $50,000, according to the news release.
Anderson said she was gratified to learn that the president and CEO of the St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation, Eric J. Jolly, is himself a Native American, and a life member of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.
“In times of need, the generosity of Minnesotans can be counted on to support community-led solutions for those who are vulnerable and at-risk in our state,” Jolly said in a news release. “As Minnesotans face risks associated with the coronavirus, that generosity will again be deployed through the Minnesota Disaster Recovery Fund. We are proud to play a contributing role with the Minnesota Council on Foundations in the fund and in continuing Minnesota’s legacy of giving, especially during this challenging time.”