Navigating the Federal Grant Windfall Webinar
July 18, 2022

Webinar Replay


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Jason Mancini:

Well, good morning, everybody. Thanks for joining our webinar today, Federal Grant Windfall situation. We’re excited to have everybody joining today. We’ll do introductions in a minute. Melissa, if we can pull up the slide deck that we’re going to share with everyone today. Again, you’re joining the Navigating the Federal Grant Windfall webinar. The goal’s to really try to discover the tribal priorities, it’s working on stretching relief funds, finding new sources of funding, a focus on creating shovel ready projects, and really increasing your grant writing capacity.

At the end of the day, we know it’s about getting these grants written, and yet that’s probably where the smallest part of the funnel is I’m sure with that capacity. We’ll be talking through some of these things today. Great. I just wanted to take a chance to meet the panelists. With that, we’ll start with our chairman and CEO, Jamie Fullmer. Jamie, if you wouldn’t mind just running through introductions of the panelists for us, and introducing Blue Stone, that would be great.

Jamie Fullmer:

Sure. Good morning, everybody. Appreciate you taking the time this morning. My name is Jamie Fullmer. I’m the chairman and CEO of Blue Stone Strategy Partners. I’m Apache, a proud member of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, located in Camp Verde, Arizona, and was honored to serve my tribe as tribal chairman many years ago now. I served two terms as an elected leader. We had term limits in our constitution. After the two terms, John Mooers, our president at Blue Stone, and I co-founded Blue Stone Strategy Partners, and we’ve been working exclusively in Indian country ever since then.

Proud and honored to have served over 200 tribes, and really excited about this morning and the opportunity to have not only our team, but also honored to have two tribal chairmans that are joining today. Isaiah Vivanco, the chairman of the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians, is joining us today as well as Ron Allen from Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. We’re really honored that they were willing and able to join us because it’s a nice cross section of the tribe in the Northwest, and where Jamestown S’Klallam’s at and the tribe in Southern California, where Soboba Band is located, and also with our team being able to get a national perspective.

We felt like the opportunity is the right time for us to be able to share some of what we’ve learned in addressing the issues and challenges with the pandemic, as well as the funding that’s come through both beginning with CARES Act and now with ARPA and the infrastructure funds, so we look forward… We also… The event’s being moderated by Jason Mancini. Jason is our national project manager. We also have joining and running the responses and the technology with Melissa Thompson, our senior project manager. As I had mentioned earlier, John Mooers is the president of Blue Stone.

So, Jason, just turn the time back over to you to moderate. Just honored to have everybody joining this morning. We look forward to providing you some insight and some thought leadership around ARPA, and getting some tribal leader perspective as well. Thank you very much, everyone.

Jason Mancini:

Thanks, Jamie. Appreciate that. Melissa, any just feedback on just or just on process as far as question and answers, how that’s going to work today?

Melissa Thompson:

Yes. Good morning. If you have any questions you want to pose, please use the Q&A button down at the bottom. Our team here on the panelist side and the host side will get that, and be able to respond. Then also, just the recording for the webinar will be shared out once we’re finished here, and a follow-up email probably tomorrow. The webinar is being recorded.

Jason Mancini:

Perfect. Thanks, Melissa. We can go to the next slide. One thing about just Blue Stone is we’ve got about 15 core service offerings. The bulk of what we do is planning for both governance and also economic development, so a lot of planning, but specifically, you can look at the core service offerings that Blue Stone offers. We’ve been doing this for 16 years now. We get to wake up every day and work in Indian country, so excited about and passionate about ARPA, and the opportunity it brings, I think, to tribes across the nation. We can go to the next slide.

When we talk about ARPA, the thing that we hear probably the most is more than 32.8 billion being infused into tribal communities. For some tribes that we work with, it was a little bit overwhelming, I think. The landscape of how the funds were distributed, the different entities that it went through for being able to access these dollars was confusing, and so when we talk about the 32.8 billion, though, we want to talk first from the big picture point of view of it being just an incredible opportunity.

If we can go to the next slide, we’ll see how that was laid out. I’d like to go to our president, John Mooers. John, when you think about the 32.8 billion, and we’ve got a little red box around the 20 billion, maybe you could help describe as we see it in the landscape of this funding how that’s different than these other boxes of opportunities.

John Mooers :

Thank you, Jason. Welcome to all the attendees this morning. The 20 billion, as you all know, was formula-based distributions to federally recognized communities. There was a minimum of $1 million given to each federally recognized tribe. Then from there, there was a formula based upon 65% and 35% and two different distributions based upon the size of the community, the land base and their economic employment. That’s given, and the ARPA funds unlike the CARES Act funds have great flexibility. When I say that, I’d like to use the term of gold.

Gold is transferable in any currency as we all recognize, and so ARPA funds for the most part have tremendous flexibility on where the tribe… There are requirements, so we can get into that, but how they use it when they use it and what they use it for, definitely, the tribes have more control over that than previous funding. Then came along 12.8 billion of additional funding. Let’s refer to that as silver for right now. It’s very valuable. It’s important. It’s necessary, but unlike gold, in this particular example, it can only be used for the purpose it was received.

ARPA funds could be used for economic development or stabilizing a tribal economy, workforce development, healthcare, housing, et cetera, et cetera, which we’ll show examples of. However, the 60 plus other funding opportunities at a federal level that has come to the Indian country, again, totaling up to a little over $12 billion is specific for a purpose. You can see here, there’s native language. There’s combat domestic violence. There’s housing initiatives. There’s education programs. There’s health systems, and it goes on and on and on.

But once you pursue those, which are very important, you have to use those funds as they were received. ARPA has so much flexibility as a comparative that ARPA can be used to supplement. It could be used to add on. It could be used to pay for these initiatives directly. It could actually even be used for an advance to get these projects started and then repaid in many cases back to the travel government once you receive program dollars, so a lot of flexibility, a lot of opportunity, but we’re in unchartered waters.

So, the key point here is that what’s the strategy? What’s the plan to leverage your ARPA funds? We believe ARPA funds should be used last as not first. We believe that other than taking care of the community members themselves, and in direct high priority initiatives, a lot of the other programs and departments and economic initiatives could very well be funded through these secondary or program-specific dollars, and use those precious ARPA funds to either supplement or have a reserve, because they have the most flexibility.

There are communities out there that receive their ARPA funds, and immediately spent those without a planning process, without a structured approach, without understanding, in many cases, what the opportunities to leverage ARPA dollars to actually go use and pursue these other non-ARPA dollars, and really increase the amount of funds by a multiple that the tribe has access to. Thank you, Jason.

Jason Mancini:

Thanks, John. It’s a great, I think, strategy. We’re going to talk a little bit about strategy. Jamie, you’ve been in Indian country for a long time. You were chairman of your tribe for consecutive terms. Have you ever seen this kind of opportunity in Indian country before? What have you been telling tribes? Have you talked to them about this opportunity?

Jamie Fullmer:

When I was chairman, this is now 20 plus years ago, going on my first term in office, was unheard of. There wasn’t even… This kind of dollars coming to Indian country was not even a consideration at that time. It was always struggling to find funds for every little thing that you did, and those tribal leaders that have joined the webinar, you, and that have been around, know what I mean with that. The one thing I will say about that is there’s a lot of dollars in Indian country, but because of the impacts on the greater economy, I don’t believe that this will ever happen again in our lifetime. At least I don’t…

There’s just not enough money in the federal coffers, especially with them investing in war overseas as well. So although it’s a lot of dollars that have come into Indian country, it’s really important that the tribes that are utilizing and leveraging every opportunity to get those dollars, and to support the opportunity to build out the infrastructure, and the programming, and the housing, and all of the supportive services that can be leveraged through the funding that’s come through in the ARPA and now the infrastructure bill, and just recognizing that…

I don’t foresee that these kind of dollars will ever come into Indian country again in the near future, for sure, and perhaps never again with regards to the economy. I will say that, to John’s point that he opened up with with the 20 billion that’s gone in, those tribes that have already started their planning, and have really looked at how best to leverage that ARPA congratulate you, and now is the time to really start looking at those additional non-ARPA direct funds, the other funds that are outlined in this screen.

We’ve been working with tribes throughout the country right now since ARPA came out around developing plans to maximize the opportunity for these additional funds as they’re going to be the building blocks for the next near future, as well as potentially for the next generations to come. So really, my comment to tribes and tribal program heads and tribal leaders is that look at these funds critically, and see how best you can maximize your opportunity to go out and capture these funds.

Jason Mancini:

Thanks, Jamie. Chairman Vivanco, when you think about just… When you saw these funds being released and coming down the pipeline, and knew that they would come, and some of them would be directly distributed out, and some you were going to have to competitively go and get, what was your initial reaction as far as the opportunity that this could present itself for your tribe?

Isaiah Vivanco:

Oh, we were excited, but at the same time curious as to what any restrictions there would be on these funds. As you know, with the CARES Act, there wasn’t clear guidance, and there wasn’t a lot of flexibility with those dollars. So being able to use what had come down the pipeline in the first go round was something we had to step back and really look at, and how can we best utilize these funds to make sure that we’re addressing the needs of our community and our tribe? That was first and foremost. Then as we got further into with ARPA and the infrastructure bill, it became a plan.

Let’s start planning for what could be coming this way. Then when it did come our way, we were a step ahead of the game with our planning, and making sure that we could maximize the use of any funds that came our way, and really address our needs.

Jason Mancini:

Really good. What do you think… Just a follow-up question, how important do you think this funding is in general, this opportunity for Indian country as a whole?

Isaiah Vivanco:

It’s huge. You’ve heard it here this morning. Jamie, you just mentioned it again. I don’t think that it’ll ever happen again. It hasn’t happened up until this point. I don’t believe it’ll happen again, but it’s here now, and it’s time for us in any country as a whole to maximize its value. I know every tribe out there has needs. Be it housing infrastructure, higher education, just health, whatever the case may be, there are dollars out there to address these issues. It’s up to us as tribal leaders to go out and make sure we’re maximizing our best effort to put forth and grab these funds or these dollars.

Jason Mancini:

Really good. We can go to the next slide, Melissa. Basically, on top of all that, we’ve got the bipartisan infrastructure law passed the House to 15 billion in direct funding, largest resource in U.S. history, addresses a lot of infrastructure needs in Indian country around climate change. A lot of water, wastewater type of dollars that are out there, public transportation, broadband, road maintenance, and all we do is work in Indian country. We know that tribes need this type of infrastructure support.

But to be able to leverage this infrastructure support, there’s got to be some planning. There’s got to be some shovel-ready projects in place. John, as maybe some people are joining this and realizing, “Wow, we haven’t really addressed or began to plan yet,” I think, some tribes are asking, “Is it too late? Is it too late at this point to take advantage of these opportunities?”

John Mooers :

The answer is no. It’s not too late. To give you an idea, there are over 90 grants closing between now and December 31st representing $1.1 billion to Indian country. Yes, there is opportunity, but time is ticking. The federal government did not take into consideration, we believe to its fullest extent, the impact on the pandemic to Indian country, and thus the inability to quickly respond to deadlines that were set by treasury to expend these funds, and then come out with 60 plus other funding opportunities that in many cases are brand new to Indian country with new regulations, new application processes, new reporting processes, and then bring on another 15 billion and new opportunities on top of that to an already short workforce due to COVID and temporary closures in some cases still enacting throughout governments.

It’s been a challenge. So, is it too late? No. Are there deadlines passing basically daily? Yes, there are, but this is the time. If you haven’t started the process, or if you’re in the middle of the process, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity that needs to be acted upon. I’ll give you an example that it’s not… The impact of what we’re seeing to all this new funding is that some traditional historical funding agents from the federal government through a standard application process are not being pursued just because tribes are overwhelmed.

We’re seeing a great decline in applications for many funding opportunities. There are a few that have been oversubscribed, but the majority are not. So, that means that even the smallest tribe, the most rural tribe, has an equal opportunity to go pursue these funds, but it is a structured planning approach that needs to be considered. There is a lot of opportunity, but you notice at the bottom of this particular slide, the asterisk shovel ready planning projects were a priority. This started in the Obama administration where the federal government wanted to see some immediate impacts of the funding, and so they gave special awards or special preference, if you will, to those projects that were shovel ready.

They weren’t just concepts on paper. They knew exactly where the project was going to be built. They understood the cost. There was the engineering and architectural and pre-construction worked on. There was the understanding of the impact, clearly understanding of the various funding sources, and how it was going to be administered within the tribal government. These are getting preference. These are getting preference not only in the infrastructure side, but the more planning that could be put forth, the better the opportunity for the award. Thank you, Jason.

Jason Mancini:

Thanks, John. Chairman Vivanco, when you think about the impact that the infrastructure bill can have on your tribe specifically, what are some of the existing infrastructure projects and needs that you’re hoping to accomplish?

Isaiah Vivanco:

Well, thankfully, we’ve had a history of great leadership that have looked at our needs as a tribe and said, “Hey, we need to put planning together for these future projects in hopes that we can one day fund them.” We’ve gone out and done all the leg work, and got things ready for what’s important for us is housing. What comes with that is requiring wastewater treatment facility, upgrading our water system, even maybe solar arrays, expanding upon our broadband connectivity that we do have currently putting all those into play.

Then once the opportunity came through the infrastructure bill to fund these projects, we, ourselves, thought, “Okay, we’re in a good position. We have projects that would be deemed shovel ready and are really going after those.” So I think identifying your tribe’s needs and what’s important at that moment, and then really progressing upon that to make sure that you are ready for when these grants do come out, you’re in a position to take advantage of.

Jason Mancini:

Thank you, Chairman. Appreciate that. We can go to the next slide. With this slide, there’s a treasury example uses of funding. Jamie, I think as we’ve worked with tribes, we’ve seen that some tribes are maybe a little just apprehensive about moving forward, about maybe having to feel like, “Now, we don’t know if we can get projects in place that are approved by treasury. We don’t want to have to send money back.” What’s your advice to tribes that maybe haven’t moved forward or aren’t moving forward because they’re worried about how the funds might be used?

Jamie Fullmer:

Always as a tribal leader, former tribal leader, I think about the idea of sovereignty and the importance of expressing sovereignty. These funds were allocated from treasury to the sovereigns across the United States of in nations, tribal nations. The importance of this is they set up this broad framework. What really becomes important is making certain that as you plan forward, using the ARPA direct funds that you’re thinking about maybe alternative uses beyond the pandemic and beyond the here and now, and to Chairman Vivanco’s comments around be that strong leadership team that builds the planning for the future.

So at the very least, I would recommend to all tribes that you develop some plans for a vision for the future. You can utilize the funds for planning for the rebuilding of your economy, the rebuilding of your economic engine, the rebuilding of your programs to support your community members, and then also the direct services that you have for your membership, so really becomes important to look at these broad buckets that treasury developed, and think of what can fit in there today that you could also at some point change or expand in the future.

A perfect example would be water and sewer as the chairman brought up. Maybe it’s initially planned for 10 housing units, but maybe the thinking is around, “We’ll do the planning for 100 housing units, and so that you have those shovel ready plans in place going forward to be able to implement if and when the money comes, and then be able to also showcase a shovel-ready plan so that you have more opportunity to reach out to the new grants. The other thing I would suggest on the ARPA funds, just in closing on this, is that really thinking about not just the impacts of what you’re going to develop, but the impacts of once it’s developed.

What kind of impact will it have on the tribe as far as staffing needs, as maintenance needs, oversight needs, training and development needs for your people? There’s a sequencing of events that should happen in this process. It’s a planning funnel where you’re thinking about the broad vision of the future, and you’re narrowing down into here and now, and then leveraging the ARPA to plan, and then also do those immediate necessary areas to address the needs of the community while also thinking about how to protect and build for the future.

Jason Mancini:

Really good. Thanks, Jamie. We can go to the next slide. John, when you think about maybe just with that being a little bit more creative, so one way to look at it is treasuries handcuffed me. Another way to do it is, “Okay, how do I work around some of that guidance, that general guidance, and get creative maybe when it comes to looking at how to use fiscal recovery funds?”

John Mooers :

Thank you, Jason. There is a lot of creative ways within the boundaries of treasury to leverage the funds. We get questions every day from our travel clients on whether it’s subsidizing salaries or capacity building investments that are necessary. I think that’s one thing that when you’re looking at which projects you would like funded, one of the main things that need to be considered is what’s the internal capacity and requirements to actually fulfill the implementation, or if it’s a construction project, the development of that initiative?

So, it’s not just money, and so tribes are being very creative in looking at not only the definitions and uses of the dollars based upon the availability, but how to use state level dollars tied to federal dollars, tied to ARPA dollars to actually pay for these programs, and these projects that are priorities. The capacity piece is something that we’re seeing is a significant gap. If you think about on a regular basis an average drive, and I’ll just use average as a loose definition is anywhere from 15 to 25 grants a year, well, there’s literally hundreds of grants.

There are over 90 closing in the next six months, and so there needs to be a very thoughtful, strategic planning process to not only address the creativeness of what funds could be available in conjunction with state and federal initiatives, but also internally, how are those projects if they are funded, or if they decide to be funded by tribal government, how are they actually going to be implemented? I think capacity building is something that is of great concern, because what are the departments that are most impacted through this? HR, workforce development challenges that exist not only in retention, but in recruitment of qualified staff in training to support that.

Then you’ve got finance. Finance is a second department that is highly impacted by this because of the amount of scrutiny that’s required in many of the reporting funding reapplications put in, and the awards that are handed out, but also just the ability to manage the financial aspects of these projects. You’re dealing with tens and, in some case, hundreds of millions of dollars for tribes in newly created responsibilities, newly created reporting requirements in a very short timeline.

Then the other is the grants department, right? The grants department is they’re used to be creative, right? They’re used to figuring out ways to position projects that are best and able to be funded. One thing about the Blue Stone approach to this planning is that we look at not only all the available funding, but what are the creative uses of those funds to meet the tribal council goals based upon the community’s priorities? It is a process, and there’s a lot of room for interpretation, but if it’s properly done and there’s good guidance, the outcomes can be significant for tribes.

Really good, John. Thank you. Melissa, if we can go to the next slide, and talk strategy a little bit. As we know, the direct distribution funds, all tribes receive that at various levels based on basically the size of the tribe. John, we work with all sizes of tribes. We work with some smaller tribes maybe that got a lower amount of the direct distribution funds, and maybe feel like they can’t do as much with ARPA. But maybe talk about this strategy a little bit, just to talk about how you can leverage those funds, how you can maximize the funding opportunities to really grow your ARPA opportunity.

Thank you. ARPA was… CARES Act was dictated, as the chairman mentioned, as far as the types two requirements and the timeframes and so forth. Then ARPA came along with the ability, a longer three-year timeframe for allocation of those funds, but much more room as far as how they could be used, but there were still… For many tribes, it’s a small amount of money. In some tribes, it was a larger amount, but they have larger needs. Overall, ARPA is a drop in the bucket for what tribal communities actually need to stabilize and grow their communities in all aspects from community development, economic development, health, education, et cetera.

It’s a drop in the bucket as far as the needs that are there. We know that, right? But then came along the non-ARPA dollars. That was the first… To us, that’s the great equalizer, right? Why is that is because all tribes are able to submit applications for awards federally recognized tribes. So now, you have this pool of $12.8 billion, that it’s the sovereign right of a federally recognized tribe to pursue each and every one of those awards. How do you do that? Well, the strategy is to take a small amount of your ARPA funds. I’m going to use the example of 20%, which many tribes have done.

Use that 20% to do the planning necessary from the shovel ready preparedness to the proper implementation planning internally to looking at your capacity building and what it’s going to take to retain employees, and promote employees, and attract employees. What is it going to take to build out your finance department and your grants department, and what is it going to take to submit the applications necessary to win these awards? Take 20% of funds, and set those aside for those types of activities. All the planning that we’re talking about are justified and authorized ARPA expenses, right?

They’re all authorized expenses. In fact, the federal government wants you to plan, wants you to be prepared that there’s a lot of potential risk if you don’t. So, they’re encouraging planning. They’re encouraging process development. They’re encouraging looking at capacity building of which we’re talking about today, but then let’s identify the federal funds that are available to fund your programs and projects that are directed at the council level and throughout your community. Let’s set those ARPA funds aside. Let’s do sound planning. Let’s do it efficiently and quickly.

Now, let’s go after a much larger pool of funds. You’re taking 20% of your ARPA funds, and you’re going to relay that or leverage that into a much larger opportunity of pool of non-ARPA funding. Then the second bucket that came along and which was a potential windfall for tribes is that when the Biden administration distributed ARPA funds to the states, they actually classified tribes as an equal in the process. Why that’s important is because states are required in developing tribal programs that can access state ARPA funds.

We’re seeing the state of Minnesota example. Seven solid programs are being developed and implemented that give the Minnesota tribes an opportunity to access state funds that they didn’t have access to before in addition to the state grants. Then came along the infrastructure, as I said. You’ve got these… If you look at your goal to being the ARPA, and you take 20% of that, and now you look at… Wow, look at the three major buckets of funding from federal non-ARPA dollars, which are the 60 plus programs I spoke of 12.8 billion. Then you look at the state funding programs that are available and still being announced by the way, so time is not too late there.

Now, you’ve got the infrastructure bill, which is now 15 billion, which is a five-year window of allocation. You’re now taking a small amount of ARPA funds, and leveraging them into much, much larger funding opportunities. Now, we could really make a dent into the priorities and the needs of communities throughout Indian country. That strategy is driven by thoughtful planning, by understanding the capacity needs for development and implementation. It’s being thoughtful with regard to protecting proper planning by protecting the tribal government with regard to how you’re using the funds.

One of the big things that we’re seeing, Jason, is that tribes that aren’t entering into proper planning are seeing significant cost overruns, number one, in their projects, because the way that they were budgeted was using historical numbers, not future numbers based upon supply chain crisis and a lack of getting supplies in a timely manner, and the increase of cost of staffing. All these things contribute to delays as well as increased cost. We’re seeing a project that give you an example in a community had considered a large construction project, and so they allocated ARPA funds for that construction project.

Challenge number one is before you use your ARPA… I’ll get back to ARPA is gold. It’s a universal currency. You could use it for construction, but there is a lot of other funding opportunities that could pay for that project before you have to use your ARPA fund. That’s number one. That’s first yellow flag. The second yellow flag is they used historical planning techniques in order to develop their planning and budgeting moving forward. At the tribal council meeting, they had brought through resolution to adopt this project, and move this forward. It was a very large project for the community.

Right before the vote was taken, the architect was in the back of the room, and he asked to approach the council. He says, “Tribal council, I’d like you to reconsider before you take this vote, because we completed the estimates 90 days ago to do this project. We can tell you today that the cost to do this project is 48% more than was estimated 90 days ago, and it’s going to take you twice as long.” So if in fact the community would’ve gone forward and invested their precious ARPA dollars in this project, and it was basically the extent of their ARPA dollars, they ended up with a project that was cost overrun, twice what it was supposed to be, and it was going to be half finished.

That was not a positive process, right? That planning process didn’t take into consideration of, “Wait a minute. We’ve got to be thoughtful in how we’re going to approach these. We got to protect our nation with regard to cost overruns and access to the funding and our capacity requirements to actually do it.” But then the second is, “Let’s look at all other alternate funds before we use our precious ARPA monies that could very well have paid for that project.”

The strategy and summary is a tiered approach that protects the nation, that addresses capacity requirements necessary to actually implement, accesses all the funding sources, not just historically what you’ve been limited to. Overall, I believe it have a much significant more of an impact to the community. Thank you.

Jason Mancini:

That’s really good laying that out, John. Thank you. Chairman Vivanco, when you think about that strategy of protecting that direct distribution funds, because it is the least restrictive, and going after that middle tier, did you follow a similar approach when you looked at your strategy for ARPA funding?

Isaiah Vivanco:

We have, and more specifically recently with our wastewater treatment facility, we had always planned for that to be a major project for our reservation and our housing needs. But because of inflation material and time expenditures with just the increase of cost, we’ve had to relook at that. There’s opportunity out there where you can use hopefully state funding or infrastructure bill funding to connect to local communities and then their infrastructure wastewater management systems. There’s an opportunity for those to be funded through these grants.

That’s something that we really got to look at, because it takes away from having to operate your own treatment facility, manage it down the road with all the regulations, all the potential new employees and what whatnot. It’s just really looking at those and analyzing, and making sure you’re using the best maximum use of these dollars, and getting the best bang for your buck in a sense.

Jason Mancini:

Really good. Thanks, Chairman. If we go to the next slide, just to hit that point home on the strategy again, just to recap, protect fiscal recovery funds, right? It’s the direct distribution. It’s the least restrictive. There’s years for use there, and really focus on leveraging those program-specific funds as both John and chairman talked about whether those be allocation based, formula based, application based, competitive, state funding, but this is the largest opportunity to really expand funding opportunity to be able to grow that.

You want to use those program funds first, and so really important when you talk about that strategy. Let’s dive a little bit just into planning. Jamie, when we talk about planning… We can go to the next slide. Some tribes, there’s so much funding out there, and yet it’s still not enough for the needs for each of the communities that we work with. One thing I know as we travel and work with these communities, Jamie, is that the needs far outweigh even this once in a lifetime opportunity. How do you keep from just chasing funding, I guess, because there’s so much funding out there?

It can be overwhelming, and different departments might chase funding. We’ve always talked about maybe trying to lead with key council and tribal leadership initiatives. Maybe talk a little bit about why you think that approach is better or best for planning, and how to plan using these seven key funding areas moving forward.

Jamie Fullmer:

Thank you, Jason. When it comes to any tribal system, it always… The buck stops at the tribal council and the tribal elected leaders, so it really becomes important for leadership to be not only involved in planning, but to lead planning on the priorities that are most important to the tribe now, and to develop a vision for what they would like to see going forward. Now, as it relates to ARPA and looking at this slide, these seven categories that we’ve developed over the last couple of years are really tied to the ARPA direct funding, and because of the impacts of the pandemic in tribal communities, these are the core areas that treasury and the different agencies within the federal government have prioritized as areas to support with the ARPA-direct funds and the non-direct ARPA funds.

So really looking at from a tribal leadership perspective, developing a plan that deals with addressing the here and now impacts of the pandemic and recovery, then taking the time to actually look forward. We suggest, especially because of the timeframe of the funds over the next one to three years for the use of the ARPA direct funds and the infrastructure funds over the next one to five years, and then really looking at the timelines on the grant funding.

What it boils down to, from a planning perspective, is looking at the core funds of these aren’t in any order as far as ranking, but infrastructure, housing, culture and language, economic development, community development, public health, education. Most of what a tribal government is trying to develop and build for protecting its sovereignty, protecting its people, protecting its culture and its life ways is tied into these seven buckets. That’s very important because it also allows tribal leaders to think about not just the use of the ARPA funds, but the bigger picture of what they want to achieve for their people in protecting the future.

We really look at, in our planning process with tribes, taking the time to prioritize what are the major projects that are either on the table or that the tribal council would like to put on the table that falls in these areas so that they can be prioritized to go out and seek additional funding, and being very prudent about it. Because although there’s time to continue to do it as John brought up, there’s 90 potential grants to the end of the year, and 1.5 billion on the table just in the here and now. That’s not even with the other grants that are going to be coming out.

We see every month new grant funds coming out, so it really becomes important not only for the leadership to plan and prioritize, but to also include the departments and programs and economic arms to get their involvement, and also get perspective from the membership. The stakeholders, the purpose of a tribal government is to serve its people ultimately, and so getting perspective from the people about what the priorities are as you go forward, and being able to develop priorities to address those, and then from there, building projects that are based on the here and now immediate projects, the projects that are going to take some time to advance and plan for, and then for the future, having a vision for the next leaders that come in and for the people to see that there’s a direction that you’re going in is a critical path.

One thing I will say about the use of the funds is it’s also a time right now to think of what are the opportunities to partner as Chairman Vivanco brought up? What opportunities is there for the tribe to partner in the region? Really, really maximize leveraging those state allocated funds, bringing a pool of funds maybe to the locals town, local county, local district, and or maybe the local chamber of commerce, whatever that is. In most cases, to build the tribal economy, the tribe has to include the neighborhood around them, because they’re going to be part of their customer base, if not the majority of their customer base, so really including them in the planning not as a request, but as a good partner, as a good neighbor, as a strong leader in the region.

So, would want to have that as part of this overarching planning process, but taking the time to really break that down as John pointed out of what are the impacts of us developing a wastewater plant? What are the impacts of us putting in another 100 houses? What are the impacts of us building a school for our people, both good and bad? Taking the time to weigh those out, and then including what workforce development is needed to create tribal member jobs for the future. That would be the big picture of this process.

That would all be drilled down into specific details on each of these seven core focus areas, and then projects for each of those detailed goals that are set by leadership. That would include budgeting. That would include impacts on staffing and impacts for the future.

John Mooers :

I think Jamie, that’s an excellent point. In many cases, the planning actually identifies the projects and the needs for additional support. I’ll give you a couple examples on this slide, three of them. I’ll just use public and community health as one. There’s more money for health projects there’s ever been in Indian country, and as we all know, there’s a dire need for it. But under Kate Grismala, from our team, and her staff is really looking at health assessments of the community members, right? What is their health needs? Where are they in their requirements for quality health?

What are the services that are needed that maybe aren’t provided today? What’s the assessment of current clinic operations? Are they up to what you need in your community, not only from staffing, but efficiency and third party billing? Are they efficient operations? If there’s gaps, this is the time to identify, “Is there a potential expansion of a clinic, and what that could look like?” Those are projects that could be paid for under this process. Then looking at healthcare for profit, we believe at Blue Stone that leveraging sovereign rights in healthcare for travel communities is a tremendous opportunity for financial stability and better healthcare for community members.

So, is that being considered both on the economic side as well as on the health side? Then if you look at human resources, as we talked about Alicia Finley and our staff overseas, several or many projects related to compensation assessments, right? One thing that we’re seeing in the gaps, I mentioned earlier, is the gap between able to recruit and retain quality staff. That is a challenge in Indian country as it is across all of the U.S. today. What is it that needs to be looked at to better retain, train, and attract strong staff members to your government operations? That is something that’s a viable expense and should be thoughtful in this process.

Then if I look at economic development, the need for revenue is greater than ever right now, revenue to pay for government services to be sustainable, and create workforce development and job opportunities for your members. Kevin Blazer, the Economic Development Services Director, their team’s looking at what industries could be considered. Now that the pandemic has really had an effect on the economy, where are the opportunities for tribal sovereignty to leverage through taxation and land use and so forth and funding?

These planning approaches actually lead to identification of critical projects that could then be paid for through implementation of these different funding agents. Thank you, Jason.

Jason Mancini:

Thanks, John. If we can go to the next slide. So just an example of what that would produce when you think about, instead of just chasing the funding starting with really leaderships, key areas of focus, and here’s a case study of how some of those things. Now, these aren’t projects, right? These are just high-level goals. These will waterfall down into several projects, and there’ll be a lot of planning to get those projects mapped out, and to get them shovel ready.

But chairman Vivanco, you went through a similar process. How important was it to lead with leadership’s goals, I think, to be able to really talk about how you would address the ARPA opportunity?

Isaiah Vivanco:

I think it’s extremely important, and you identify this slide. In our tribe, we took the very same approach. We, as a council, sat together for it wasn’t even hours, but days and weeks, and identified current needs, future needs, and just where we anticipate our tribe going in the next five, 10, 25 years, and what the needs may be. We put all that down on paper just as you have a slide here that shows as such, and really identified from there, “What are our priorities?” Once you identify those priorities, the funding opportunities that are out there, we went and hired a second grant writer to help us identify those areas, and see what’s going to be available to us, and what was the most feasible.

Start chipping away at that, and then aim for the ultimate goal, and creating a community that is self sustainable, making sure that you have addressed all of your tribe’s current and future needs, or just identifying them at least, and then just really going out there and sticking to your plans, sticking to your model, making sure that this is your Bible, so to speak. You can turn back and look at it. What else can we address? Once you create that and improve upon it, I think you’ll find success in that, and going after these funds and identifying the specific dollars that are out there for what may be on your list.

It’s something that we’re doing, and we continue to do. Just because we went through it one time doesn’t mean that we don’t think of something down the road, and don’t add it. We do that. We just continue to build upon that to make sure that we’re addressing all of our future needs and all of our future goals. I think it’s very important to sit down, have a working council session. Like I said, it may not be one or two, but multiple over some time, but addressing all your needs.

Jason Mancini:

Really good. Thanks, Chairman. Melissa, if we can skip the next slide, and go to the one after that, so we can talk about the process really quick. When we think about this approach with phase one, really being that, of establishing those leadership goals, but John, we saw that slide of all those leadership goals. But just in your practice and working with tribes, how has that turned into projects, moving those into really projects that can actually seek grant-funding opportunities?

John Mooers :

I think the chairman did an excellent job of recapping the importance of gaining alignment. The keyword here is alignment with tribal council, and so having… At Blue Stone, we believe in a work session environment, two day work session as an example. We interview the individual tribal leaders to gain what their priorities. In the seven funding buckets, you saw the slide earlier, what are the top three and four goals that they would like to accomplish? We collect that data, and we have a working session, and we go through a facilitated discussion of prioritizing individual projects, individual goals, what the impact could be, what the funding opportunities at a high level could be.

Out of that comes the top three to four goals in each of the seven categories. You just do a quick math. That’s anywhere from 21 to 28 goals. The tribal councils across Indian country that we work with feel that those are want… They either want to move forward with those, and get funding, and see how they can really see these projects into reality. Then at that point, the tribal council assigns point of contacts within the departments or programs, excuse me, that are assigned specific goals to turn those into projects. So, at Blue Stone, we have a process. It’s called a project priority worksheet.

We work with the points of contact, and develop… What are the projects? What do they defined as? What do they look like? What are they… What planning has already been done or has it started that is going to accomplish the council goals? Get a clear list of the projects necessary, whether they’ve been pre-identified or not that are going to be necessary to accomplish what the tribal council just laid out. To give you an idea, 21 tribal council goals usually turns into between 80 and 90 projects. Now, you’ve got 80 and 90 projects, and then they come back for approval to council.

Now, council says, “Here’s my goals that we wanted to accomplish working with the POCs and the Blue Stone team. Here is specifically the projects that are necessary to actually see our goals become a reality for our people. Some communities ask for community input to those projects to make sure there’s alignment between stakeholders of council and community and staff. Then it’s moved forward with phase two. Phase two is really where the rubber meets the road. If you think about moving 15 to 25 projects through a government system historically, and now you’re looking at anywhere from 80 to 90 projects with three times the amount of grants funding sources, you’ve got a complicated model.

I’d like to use the hourglass, right? You start at the top of the hourglass as the big funnel, and you have all these opportunities that go into it. Then at the bottom is all the funding opportunities that are available to source those, but the small part of the funnel is the bottleneck. The bottleneck has to really address capacity, address structured planning, cost controls that protect the community, capacity requirements on staffing, et cetera. So, the planning process that we’ve identified in our working with tribes take all that data, and put it into a document that’s between six and 10 pages per project.

It basically represents about 80% of everything that the grant writer needs to actually go pursue the project. So historically, grant writers move from department to department, and try to collect data. In this case they’re given, here’s the project priority. Here’s the goal of council, and here’s the planning document that addresses 80% of what you need to actually go get that award. That’s where we’re seeing the success. That’s where we’re seeing historically 15 to 25 projects moved through the planning process to seeing 80 to 90 move through the process in an efficient, timely manner.

It takes engagement and support from tribal council. It takes engagement from the grants department, but it also takes engagement from the points of contact of the project or program level. The awards… We’re looking at a tribe that received… I’ll just give you an example, a small amount. I want to emphasize the word small amount of ARPA funds. They’re now pursuing over $100 million in federal, non-ARPA, and state funds to fund their projects, and using this strategy.

I could use that across various different size of communities, but this is the approach that widens the funnel of the hourglass in the favor of the community, widens the hourglass to protect the community to have structured planning process. The result is greater awards, greater efficiency, and the ability to actually implement the projects that the council decides to move forward on.

Jason Mancini:

Really good. Thanks, John. We got a couple minutes left, and so, Chairman Vivanco, when and I think about you’ve made a commitment. Your tribe’s made a commitment to planning, and to really getting things in place, and moving these projects forward. Now that you’ve made that commitment to planning just five years from now, as you look back, when you look back five years from now, what would you hoped that you would’ve accomplished? What would success look like for you and the Soboba tribe?

Isaiah Vivanco:

I think address that. In five years, I would hope we would’ve addressed our needs, and housing being one of the biggest, making sure that we have opportunities for members to build homes and live on the reservation. That’s our biggest goal right now. I think, my tribe or even Indian country as a whole, if we capitalize on the opportunities in front of us, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. If we fulfill the needs of our communities, and look to grow, I think it’s a success. It’s up to us. It’s up to us alone to work together as one with contractors, consultants with the U.S. government, and making sure that we maximize the opportunity, and seize the opportunity to create for our community.

I think there’s a lot of opportunity out there. Be it infrastructure, be it broadband, be it housing, be it wherever your need may be, it’s a win if we go out and use these dollars to its maximum use potential. If we have to turn around and give back $1 to the federal government, I think it’s a loss.

Jason Mancini:

Wow. Really good words, Chairman. Thank you. Melissa, if you could pull up our just contact info slide. Then Jamie, as we close out, if anyone’s interested in maybe going through a similar process that chairman and John and yourself have described today, maybe what’s the next step if they haven’t really done much planning yet, especially around ARPA, and they’d like to get started? Any recommendations on first steps?

Jamie Fullmer:

I think, first and foremost, the leadership should come together, and look about what… start with what remaining ARPA funds do you have. Most tribes have committed resources already at this point, but many tribes still have some that are unobligated, and they’re looking to determine how best to prioritize the use of those funds. I think that’s the starting place, and definitely recommend whether you use an outside support or professional like Blue Stone, or able to do it internally. As the chairman brought up, it isn’t a sit down and plan one time exercise.

This is a process that’s going to take several meetings of the minds to come together, to unify your priorities, to aligning with one another, to get your community’s perspective on what’s a priority to them, and then also to develop a vision for the future. That’s really the, I think, what I heard from chairman is that call to action around… It’s your responsibility as executives, as program heads, as participants in the tribe, and as tribal leaders to really be a champion of the process. Some people are going to be the ones that bring it to the table.

Other ones are be the ones that build it into a plan, and other ones are going to implement. It’s going to take everybody’s engagement and involvement for it to be successful. It isn’t a finish line opportunity. You’re developing a next stage of stability for your community past the pandemic, and ultimately have the opportunity to develop a plan for not only stabilizing, but rebuilding and growing your travel economy in the future. That’s definitely the recommendation. As far as Blue Stone, we recommend that, as John brought up, an initial two-day work session to bring the leaders together.

From there, it can be developed of the priorities turn into these 60 plans. We feel like we can achieve 15 of them. We want action agendas put to each of those 15 priorities. That’s what we do. That’s what Blue Stone has done for 16 years before the pandemic and during the pandemic and beyond the pandemic. But to those of you that are looking to do it internally, that first step is really looking at what funds you have available from ARPA, looking at what grant writing skillset you have internally, and seeing where your gaps are to be able to manage new grants, and write new grants, because that’s probably…

The first stage is really bringing in that grant writing support to help you write new grants that are out there. The other is to really look at prioritizing what can be done now and what needs to be staged as part of this process. Really, those are our key fundamental pieces to this puzzle. From there, it’s really not just… It’s a living document. As the chairman brought up, some things will come off, and other things will be brought up. That’s really the idea of a strong action plan is really that it’s not set in stone. It’s made to evolve, and it’s made to adjust, but to stay the course on your overarching vision and your overarching priorities at the leadership level.

Jason Mancini:

Thank you so much, Jamie. Thank you to all panelists. John, thank you. Chairman, thank you for joining today. Just such a good, valuable insight. Thank you for your strong leadership in Indian country. We’ve got a survey that I think we’re going to send at the end here, right? Is that right, Melissa?

Melissa Thompson:

It should pop up automatically once we’re done as well as in a follow-up email tomorrow.

Jason Mancini:

Okay, great, so it’ll pop up. If you could stay, and take that survey, I’d really appreciate it. If not, it’ll pop up as a follow-up email. If we can support in any way, please let us know. We’d be happy to. Thank you for everyone’s time today, and best of luck in navigating this windfall of federal opportunity. Hopefully you’re encouraged and inspired to make the most of it this morning. Thank you, everyone.

Jamie Fullmer:

Please reach out to Blue Stone if we can be a support and resource. We’d be honored. Hands up to all of you.