Many of us have suffered staggering loss of life and livelihood over the past year. Nearly  5,000 families  in Kansas have lost a loved one to COVID-19. Even more have lost jobs and financial stability in the ensuing recession. Isolated from family and friends, residents in long-term care facilities went nearly a year without outside visitors. Children lost the normalcy of going to school. Many lost the communal celebration of milestones, such as graduations and weddings, and others were deprived of traditional funerals, where they would have grieved with family and friends. We have suffered loss, and that blog loss took a toll. Mental health experts say the implications of prolonged isolation won’t disappear with the virus. In fact, the mental health strain brought on and exacerbated by the pandemic will likely linger for years. But this shared experience of physical isolation seems to have helped more people open up about what’s going on inside their heads. Many of us have struggled, and we’ve been more willing to admit that because we know we’re not alone. As we re-emerge from life in a pandemic and begin healing from our collective loss, how do we keep people talking openly about mental health? How do we build off that momentum to eradicate the stigma that has long surrounded mental illness and break down the barriers to accessible mental health care? Over the next few months, the Wichita Journalism Collaborative will explore the social acceptability of mental health care, access to treatment and the challenge of affordability. But to do our work well, we’ll need the help of readers like you. The Wichita Journalism Collaborative is a coalition of local newsrooms and community institutions that launched this past spring, just as the pandemic began interrupting daily life.


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Cherokee Nation early COVID-19 relief spending gets clean report through independent auditing firm Cherokee Nation early COVID-19 relief spending gets clean report through independent auditing firm The Cherokee Nation has received a clean audit opinion from an independent Certified Public Accounting firm for the tribe’s fiscal year 2020 financial statements. The Cherokee Nation has received a clean audit opinion from an independent Certified Public Accounting firm for the tribe’s fiscal year 2020 financial statements, including the annual comprehensive budget and Cherokee Nation’s Respond, Recover and Rebuild COVID-19 relief initiatives through Sept. 30, 2020, which marked the end of FY2020. The Cherokee Nation Constitution requires an annual audit of the financial statements by a Certified Public Accountant be completed and presented to the Council of the Cherokee Nation within six months following the end of each fiscal year. The FY2020 audit and accompanying financial reports were provided to the Council on March 31. The Cherokee Nation has received clean, unmodified audit opinions every year for more than 20 years. “The Cherokee Nation has long had a reputation for being good stewards of our finances. Independent auditors have vigorously reviewed our financial statements and given us clean opinions for decades, so it is no surprise that our most recent fiscal year statements are no different, even with a budget increase of nearly 50 percent between May and June of 2020 from gaining U.S. Treasury COVID relief funds. These COVID relief funds came with strict federal requirements outlining how those dollars can and cannot be disbursed, and we have followed those requirements from day one. The FY2020 independent audit confirms that,” said moved here Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “I want to commend the treasurer and Cherokee Nation Financial Resources staff, comprised of more than 100 employees, for working tirelessly during the COVID-19 pandemic to see that funding was earmarked, spent properly and accounted for when helping our citizens through COVID, and for ensuring the audit’s completion by the Constitutional deadline, despite a nearly 50 percent reduction in staff last year caused by the pandemic. They have never wavered in the monumental responsibilities that they shoulder, and we are grateful for the work they do each day so that we were able to provide critical services to Cherokee families when they needed it most. Additionally, without the support and guidance of the Council of the Cherokee Nation, none of this would be possible.” Aside from its annual audit, Cherokee Nation’s COVID-19 relief funds also undergo internal reviews by attorneys, accounting professionals and external consultants who ensure expenditures meet federal rules and regulations. The tribe has also established a Financial Resources COVID team with a cumulative total of 227 years of finance and accounting experience to specifically provide oversight of the tribe’s COVID-19 Respond, Recover and Rebuild funding initiatives, which have provided direct assistance to Cherokee citizens throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Cherokee Nation’s COVID-19 relief funds are also subject to quarterly reporting to the U.S. Treasury, which has full audit and oversight of the funds. Since 2013, the Cherokee Nation has also undergone 107 federal agency audits which have audited more than $420 million. These audits have shown that the Cherokee Nation has a 99.999% success rate for properly spending and accounting for its federal funding. “At the end of the day, there are at least six layers of scrutiny that Cherokee Nation’s COVID-19 relief funds are subjected to,” said Treasurer Tralynna Sherrill Scott. “These processes are a challenge but they are an important part of our commitment to government accountability and transparency.