Ask Elouise week of March 7, 2010
March 8, 2010
Dear Indian Country
This is the fourth letter in a series of open letters I'm sending to Indian Country to answer questions that you have asked me about settlement of the Cobell class action lawsuit. Prior Ask Elouise letters can be found on the settlement website: http://cobellsettlement.com/class/ask_elouise.php. We also have a "frequently asked questions" section to answer the most common questions we've received: http://cobellsettlement.com/press/faq.php. I can't answer every question, but I will try to answer as many as I can every week.
When will you be meeting with Indian Country? I am beginning to schedule meetings in Indian Country with our attorney team now. I won't be able to attend each meeting, but I will do my best to attend as many as my schedule permits. I attended our first meetings on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian Reservations on March 7th and 8th. Tomorrow (March 9th) our attorneys will be at the Eagle Butte, SD - High School Auditorium from 10:30am to 2:30pm and at Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, ND (Science & Technology Center Lecture Room) from 5:00pm to 8:00pm. The travel schedule for March 10th and 11th is:
Wednesday, March 10
1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Sisseton/Lake Traverse Reservation
SWO Community Center
Thursday, March 11
1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Yankton Indian Reservation
Fort Randall Casino & Hotel - Bingo Hall
You can visit http://cobellsettlement.com/class/local_outreach.php for additional details and future dates and locations. I'll also update our travel schedule in future Ask Elouise letters. More dates will be added soon, including Nebraska reservations, and Arizona and New Mexico reservations beginning March 15.
Why have you not traveled to Indian Country before now? During the course of negotiations, the government resisted allocating any funds for outreach to Indian Country prior to the passage of legislation, despite our strong feelings that it was important to meet with Indian Country to explain the settlement. The government instead assured us that legislation would be passed a few weeks after we signed the settlement agreement on December 7, 2009, and that outreach to Indian Country would take place under the normal notice process in class action lawsuits, which would include extensive travel to Indian Country. Unfortunately, legislation was not passed (and has still not been passed) and the need to meet with Indian Country is stronger than ever. As you know, traveling to many areas of Indian Country is expensive and time consuming, but it is critical, and I can no longer wait for legislation.
I heard that my settlement check will not be taxable, is this true? That is correct. We negotiated with the government to include a provision in the legislation and settlement agreement that provides that all settlement proceeds are not considered taxable income by the Internal Revenue Service. If you have a tax preparer or other tax professional you should make sure to inform them of this important settlement benefit. You may want to refer them specifically to the legislation when it is passed and page 42 of the settlement agreement, if they have any questions. A copy of the settlement agreement can be downloaded here: http://cobellsettlement.com/docs/sa_1_19_11.pdf.
I receive federal assistance and I am concerned that receiving a settlement check will affect my eligibility or benefits, what should I do? You don't have to do anything. The legislation negotiated by the parties provides that the settlement proceeds received will not be treated as income in the month received or as a resource for a period of one year after you receive your check. Congress is currently considering this legislation.
How much will I receive as part of this settlement? While it is not possible to precisely calculate how much any particular individual will receive as part of this settlement, I have asked the government to provide a rough approximation of what each individual may receive as a member of the trust administration class. In my next Ask Elouise letter I intend to provide an estimate of the amount you may receive if you are in the trust administration class.
In your last Ask Elouise letter you indicated that I could remain in the trust administration class and still sue the government for claims related to leases that were active on September 30, 2009, is there any limitation? Yes, there is a limitation. To the extent the government is acting in any capacity other than as a trustee, you may bring a lawsuit against the government for leases active on September 30, 2009. That means, for example, if the Department of Energy or Department of Agriculture or Department of Defense are leasing or trespassing on your land as of September 30, 2009, you may bring a lawsuit against the government and still participate as a class member in the trust administration class. Moreover, your fiduciary related claims are also preserved where the lease in question predates September 30, 2009, but the injury occurs after September 30, 2009. For a complete list of claims you may bring against the government and continue to remain in the trust administration class, please see pages 44 and 45 of the settlement agreement.
If you are not currently receiving an IIM statement from the government, please remember to register for correspondence over the Internet or by calling the number below.
If you have a question, send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise you can send me a letter to the address below. To expedite the processing of your letters our contractor has set up a post office box in Ohio, but I assure you this letter is coming from me and I will see your letters.
PO Box 9577
Dublin, OH 43017-4877
Thank you and keep your questions coming!