TOPPENISH, Wash. – The Yakama Nation has given each of its roughly 10,000 tribal members $2,000 to help cover costs at Christmas, a one-time payment from casino profits that equates to about a $20 million infusion into the local economy.
Tribal members asked for the money earlier this month at the tribe’s General Council meeting, where tribal leaders are elected and major decisions made.
Tribal leaders questioned the legality of handing out casino profits without a plan approved by the federal government. But some tribal officials thought it could be done since it was just a one-time payment rather than a monthly check.
The checks were sent out Friday to every enrolled man, woman and child.
In the past, tribal members have seen their requests for money to help with school shopping and Christmas go unanswered. Last year, however, tribal members did receive $500 each for school shopping.
“It kind of surprised me,” tribal member Jake Mann said of the recent check. “I wasn’t counting on it. Usually they fight them all the way. I guess this time they didn’t.”
The boost not only helps tribal members through the holidays, but also businesses on the 1.2 million-acre reservation south of Yakima in central Washington, said Mike Gordy, owner of We’ve Got Your Bag, a Toppenish gift shop.
He estimates business has spiked by at least 15 percent since tribal members began receiving their checks.
“We’ve been slammed,” he said. “I think the influx of money just runs right through, and really helps everybody in the community.”
Kraff’s clothing store in downtown Toppenish is also seeing an increase in business, and not just from the usual customers. Homeless people have been hitting the store as well.
“People that don’t even have incomes came in here and bought heavy coats,” said store clerk Katy Padille. “They got to buy just basic stuff, undergarments, socks and shoes. They were really happy about it.”
Some businesses weren’t equipped to cash all the checks. Uncle Bucks, a check cashing business in Toppenish, had a sign up telling tribal members that it wasn’t cashing the economic stimulus checks on Saturday.
Owner Ty Young said the banks the business works with ran out of cash.
“It’s a lot to dump into a community at one time,” he said. “It would be hard for anyone to keep up.”
Either way, the infusion of cash is good to see, said Young, who also owns gas stations and convenience stores in both Toppenish and Yakima.
“If it was an effort to boost the economy locally, it was a success because we’ve seen an increase in business,” he said.