Tribe keeping close eye on programs during federal shutdown

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Oct. 10, 2013

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Navajo tribal officials are continuing to monitor tribal programs to make sure that they are not affected by the federal shutdown, which is now in its second week with no signs of ending.

Erny Zah, director of communications for Navajo President Ben Shelly and Vice President Rex Lee Jim, said that no tribal program has reported any problems yet as a result of the federal shutdown.

"We have asked the division directors to continue to monitor the situation and report back to us," he said.

The Navajo Nation receives more than $300 million a year from various federal agencies to operate programs on the Navajo Reservation but the way the grants are given out, the funds are turned over to the tribe months - and sometimes a year - in advance so these programs have funds to operate.

He said the larger programs within the tribe are intact and are not expected to have any problems, even if the shutdown last a month or more. This includes public safety, education and health services.

If a problem occurs and that will probably be a ways down the line, he said it will probably be in the smaller programs that are currently operating on carry-over funds.

If their funding runs out, Shelly will have to decide whether or not the tribe should step in and provide funding to keep the program operating until the shutdown is over.

Whether or not the tribe does that, Zah said it will depend primarily on whether tribal officials are confident that if it supplies the funding, the tribe will be reimbursed when the shutdown is over.

Another factor that will be taken into consideration is how many staff members will be affected and what services the program provides to tribal members.

If the shutdown goes on for another week or so, Zah said that tribal officials may start having problems because of ongoing discussions that are now going on with the federal agencies.

Take, for example, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).

Before the shutdown occurred, tribal officials were in talks with FEMA about getting emergency funds to help the tribe recuperate from the rainstorms in early September that damaged a number of secondary roads on the reservation and caused flooding damage to some tribal government buildings.

FEMA provides funds to bring these back up to the condition they were before the rains came.

"We're fortunate in that FEMA officials were here and did most of the assessments of the damage before the shutdown occurred," said Zah, adding that the tribe may have to wait until the shutdown is over before it can be reimbursed for the work being done to repair the damage to the roads and buildings.

The biggest effect in this area because of the shutdown is the furloughing of workers for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. (The Indian Health Service was not that affected because continued operation of the clinics and hospitals was exempted from the shutdown, although some people in the central headquarters were furloughed.)
This is not as bad as it could have been because over the years, the Navajo Nation, through the Public Law 638 program, subcontracted those programs.

But the furlough has affected at least a couple of hundred Navajo families who now have no idea when they are going to be receiving another paycheck.

The reports in the media, however, have quoted a number of Congressional leaders, both Republican and Democrat, saying that they will support giving the employees pay for the time they were out, once a deal was made to stop the shutdown.

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