November is Manatee Awareness Month; but no matter what time of year it is, manatees deserve to be celebrated. These amazing creatures fulfill a unique niche by serving as indicator species for ecosystems across the United States. Because of their reliance on the health of their habitat, manatees often act as a signal of their environment’s well-being. NOAA photo by Michael Buchanan.
Spring is coming early in 3/4 of national parks, according to a new study. Awesome? Not so much. As flowers bloom earlier every year, it’s disrupting the link between the wildflowers and the arrival of birds, bees, and butterflies that feed on and pollinate the flowers. In Shenandoah, an earlier spring is giving invasive plants a head start, and they’re displacing native wildflowers, leading to costly management issues.
Before the 1960s almost everything about living openly as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) person was illegal. New York City laws against homosexual activities were particularly harsh. The Stonewall Uprising on June 28, 1969 is a milestone in the quest for LGBT civil rights and provided momentum for a movement.
Vine Creek Ranch at Death Valley National Park. Steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.
I have tried to contact both the Garden City Group and then the Trust Beneficiary Call Center and have not been able to get through. I encounter a busy signal or a message that I will have to wait up to an hour. What is being done?
The Garden City Group (GCG) call center answers all questions about Cobell Settlement payments. The call center is monitoring hold times and has increased call center staff. Some class members have expressed frustration at long hold times, and therefore, are contacting the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) Trust Beneficiary Call Center (TBCC) and OST field offices to obtain information and assistance regarding payments.
TBCC is also working to increase infrastructure and personnel resources so that it can respond to the high volume of calls being received. Until these changes are accomplished, OST extends regrets for the delays and thanks each caller for showing patience.
You can help relieve congestion at the call centers by directing your question to the most appropriate source for information. GCG, the claims administrator for the Cobell Settlement, is responsible for settlement payments and mailing those checks. Please direct questions about payments and to update your information to GCG at their toll-free number: 1-800-961-6109.
TBCCcan answer questions about your Individual Indian Money (IIM) account and your trust assets. In addition, OST field offices can provide information about accounts and assets.OST field offices are listed on the OST website at www.doi.gov/ost/fto.
What is "Whereabouts Unknown" and who does someone contact if their name is found on that list?
The Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) maintains a list of Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts that do not have current address information. Accounts without current address information are referred to as Whereabouts Unknown (WAU) accounts. As of December 31, 2012, there were over 83,000 WAU accounts.
Without current addresses, account holders cannot receive periodic Statements of Performance (IIM account statements) or other mailings from OST. Account information that OST provided to Garden City Group (GCG), the claims administrator for the Cobell Settlement, does not have current mailing addresses for WAU accounts. Therefore, GCG is not able to mail Cobell Settlement checks to WAU accounts. GCG returns those funds to OST. The funds are deposited into WAU accounts.
Go online to www.doi.gov/ost/wau to search for names of IIM account holders whose accounts are on the WAU list.
If you are on the WAU list, you need to provide current address information to GCG. GCG will work with OST to update your information.
It is important to keep your contact information up-to-date with OST and GCG. Keeping your information up to date with GCG will assist them in making Trust Administration Class payments (also referred to as Stage 2 payments), if you are a member of that class. To answer questions regarding eligibility, refer to Who is eligible to be a Cobell Settlement class member?
Keeping your information up to date with OST will ensure that you receive future periodic Statements of Performance (IIM account statements) in a timely manner.
WAU accounts are considered restricted accounts. These accounts generally become unrestricted when OST is able to verify ownership. OST must verify identify prior to release of funds for WAU accounts and cannot release any funds for individuals who are supervised accounts (e.g., minors, mentally incompetent adults, adults in need of assistance) until an approved distribution plan has been received from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Who is eligible to be a Cobell Settlement class member?
There are two classes. It is possible to be a member of both classes. You must meet the qualifications of the class to receive a settlement payment as a member of that class.
1)"Historical Accounting Class" means individual Indians (excluding those who prior to June 10, 1996, filed actions for a historical accounting) alive on September 30, 2009, and who had an IIM Account open during any period between October 25, 1994, and September 30, 2009, which IIM Account had at least one cash transaction credited to it at any time as long as such credits were not later reversed. Beneficiaries deceased as of September 30, 2009, are included in the Historical Accounting Class only if they had an IIM Account that was open as of that date. The estate of any Historical Accounting Class Member who dies after September 30, 2009, but before distribution is in the Historical Accounting Class.
You will also see payments made to members of the Historical Accounting Class referred to as Stage 1 payments.
2)"Trust Administration Class" means individual Indians (excluding those who filed actions on their own behalf or as part of a group certified in a class action, stating breach of trust and mismanagement of trust funds or land resources) alive as of September 30, 2009, and who have or had IIM Accounts in the "Electronic Ledger Era" (currently available electronic data in systems of the Department of the Interior dating from approximately 1985 to the present), as well as individual Indians who, as of September 30, 2009, had a recorded or other demonstrable ownership interest in land held in trust or restricted status, regardless of the existence of an IIM Account and regardless of the proceeds, if any, generated from the Land. The Trust Administration Class does not include beneficiaries deceased as of September 30, 2009, but does include the estate of any deceased beneficiary whose IIM Accounts or other trust assets had been open in probate as of September 30, 2009. The estate of any Trust Administration Class Member who dies after September 30, 2009, but before distribution is included in the Trust Administration Class.
You will also see payments made to members of the Trust Administration Class referred to as Stage 2 payments. Garden City Group (GCG), the claims administrator for the Cobell Settlement,will make these payments in the future.
Why is 1994 the cut-off year for persons to be included in the Historical Accounting Class and to receive a disbursement under the Cobell Settlement?
This is the date that was identified in the settlement agreement between the plaintiffs' counsel and the defendants. October 25, 1994, is the date of passage of the American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act of 1994 and was stipulated to in the settlement agreement between the parties.
Are Cobell Settlement checks issued by JP Morgan Chase Bank, and not the U.S. Treasury, valid? Will the government verify that it is not a scam?
Yes, checks to beneficiaries all come from JP Morgan Chase Bank. This bank is the qualified bank chosen by plaintiffs' counsel and approved by the court. The U.S. Treasury will not issue settlement checks for Historical Accounting Class payments, also referred to as Stage 1 payments, or for the Trust Administration Class payments, also referred to as Stage 2 payments.
Am I eligible to receive a Cobell Settlement payment if I received a payment under a judgment distribution under a tribal claims settlement in the past but did not have an IIM account set up when the disbursement was made?
Why did my family member receive two checks, but I have not received anything?
An individual should not have received two checks. Garden City Group (GCG), the claims administrator for the Cobell Settlement, is working with the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) to identify situations where an individual received more than one check. Beneficiaries should be aware that multiple family members may have identical or nearly identical names (e.g., Sr. and Jr.). Contact GCG if you have questions about the correct recipient of the check.
If you have not received a check but believe you should have (particularly if siblings have received checks), call Garden City Group (GCG), the claims administrator for the Cobell Settlement, to get further information and to provide your most current contact information to CGC
Why were IIM funds wired to the Department of the Interior on December 21, 2012, not available until December 27, 2012?
Funds were wired for deposit into Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts after business hours on December 21, 2012. The funds were sent to the Department of the Treasury. On the first government business day, December 26, 2012, the funds were received by the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) and disbursed into the appropriate IIM accounts. Beneficiaries were able to access their funds on the following business day, December 27, 2012.