"Nearly 20 years ago, before the tribe gained federal recognition, creating a community and government center was our goal," said Malerba. "The community center is central to who we are as a people." The construction, which began in April 2007 and was halted in early 2009 in the economic downturn, has been scaled back by about $15 million from original plans.
In a statement to ABC News, USDA spokesperson Justin DeJong also said the loan would provide employment. "The loan that USDA provided will help create an estimated 1,200 jobs for this shovel-ready project in Southeastern Connecticut. Construction for the project was underway before the economic downtown, was suspended because of the credit crunch, and the USDA loan is helping the Tribe to restart construction."
"As with all beneficiaries of funding through this program," said DeJong, "the loan will be repaid to USDA with interest. The loan will provide jobs for contractors in the area, and allow construction of a building that will house health, education, community programs, a library, and Tribal court -- critical infrastructure needed to keep rural communities strong throughout the country."
The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority currently employs 9,600 people at the Mohegan Sun and other properties.
In fiscal 2009, $53.6 million in casino profits went into the coffers of the Mohegan tribe, which uses the money to fund college scholarships, housing and health care. Each of the tribe's 1,700 members receives personal payments from gaming proceeds, and though the amount varies, Bunnell told Newsday in 2009 that the annual per capita payment was "less than $30,000."
American Indian tribes have received about $2 billion in stimulus loans and grants since the passage of the Recovery Act. The money received, by law, cannot be used for casinos or gambling projects, and is intended to revitalize Native American communities. There are currently 564 federally recognized tribes, and about 300 Indian casinos.