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COACHELLA, Calif. — More than 70 tribal government and casino employees were presented with a surprise Hero Pay lump-sum payment last week. The employees — deemed by the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians as essential workers — continued to work for the tribe throughout the Covid pandemic while many Americans stayed home and collected enhanced unemployment benefits.

The one-time incremental paycheck represented retroactive pay for hours these workers logged during the initial 12 months of the pandemic. The monies used to make the payments came from the Coronavirus State & Tribal Fiscal Recovery Fund, which was part of the American Rescue Plan Act signed into law by President Joe Biden in March.

The Augustine Tribal Council voted to give its essential workers $10 additional pay for each hour worked during one of the most difficult years in recent memory. Checks presented ranged from several hundred dollars to $19,000. Tears and hugs ensued after the shock wore off for what could amount to more than half a year’s salary for some team members.

“Our team members were on the front lines for us, working hard to keep us all safe, to keep the business running and to protect our guests,” said Amanda Vance, chairperson of Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians. “They deserve our deepest gratitude, and we are thrilled to be able to compensate them for their dedication.”

Throughout the pandemic, Augustine Casino has focused on the safety of its guests and workers. The casino was the first in Coachella Valley to close its doors in March 2020 and the last to open in June 2020. In order to reopen safely, the casino enacted extensive health and sanitization guidelines, including requiring face masks, temperature checks, nightly closure for deep cleaning and no smoking indoors.  

The Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians’ reservation is nestled in the shadows of the beautiful San Jacinto Mountains, only three miles east of PGA West, in Coachella. The tribe opened Augustine Casino in 2002 and today, in addition to the casino, operates an organic farm; a three megawatt solar power plant; and Synergy Blue, a gaming manufacturing company. For more information on the tribe, visit www.augustinetribe-nsn.gov.