BLACK RIVER FALLS, Wis. (AP) – When enrolled members of the Ho-Chunk Nation turn 18 and earn a high school diploma, they receive trust funds in a lump sum that can exceed $200,000. But too many burn through their cash recklessly, ending up with little to show.
Tribal leaders are trying to change that. They’ve begun considering proposals to dole out the money in smaller amounts or to tie payments to college, military service and employment, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. The Ho Chunk Nation’s legislature set a 90-day public comment period, which ends this week.
The money comes from gaming profits. Ho-Chunk adults get $12,000 per year in four installments, but children have to wait for the money until they’re 18.
When the program started in the mid-1990s, the payout was about $17,000 per teen. That figure has skyrocketed along with the tribe’s profits: This year’s qualified graduates will receive more than $200,000 before taxes.
When Troy Wallace got $110,000 from the Children’s Trust Fund in 2006, it was like winning the lottery, he said. He immediately bought a muscle car for $34,000 in cash, and he also traveled to Disney World and Cancun.
Now the 26-year-old, who has two young kids, is unemployed and lives with his grandmother. He still has the car but it needs a new transmission.
“If I had used (the money) for college, I could have been in a lot different place,” he said.
Two other Wisconsin tribes with significant gaming profits – the Oneida in Brown County and the Potawatomi in Forest County – distribute their trust fund money the same way the Ho-Chunk do.
After hearing from Ho-Chunk members who regret how they spent their money, leaders proposed changes. One suggestion is to give a smaller amount up front and pay out the rest over a period of years as students meet benchmarks including going to college and getting a full-time job. Already, 18-year-olds must take a class on financial literacy before receiving the money.
Not everyone approves of the proposals. Some tribal members think the tribe has no business telling youth how to spend their money, Others look forward to the windfall to splurge and pay off debts.
Should the 13-member Ho-Chunk legislature pass the proposal, it would still need approval from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.