$7.9M in donations sit idle
The Navajo Nation has raised more than $7.9 million in donations to fund its COVID-19 relief efforts, the controller’s office told the Navajo Nation’s Budget and Finance Committee last week. However, none of the money has been spent.
Robert Willie, general accounting manager for the controller’s office, said that’s because a fund management plan has not been approved yet.
Emergency Management Director Harland Cleveland, head of the humanitarian relief effort for the Navajo Nation, stated that the fund management plan is complete and being reviewed by the Department of Justice.
Once approved by DOJ, BFC Chairman Jamie Henio plans to sponsor the legislation to get the plan approved so that the money can be spent.
“We could use that money to help the chapters,” said BFC Vice Chair Raymond Smith. “They’re wanting to know when and how they will be getting some money. I think that money should go to the chapters for direct services.”
Cleveland reported that when the humanitarian aid effort for the Navajo Nation was transferred to his shop from the Navajo COVID-19 Health Command Operations Center, there was a steady stream of non-monetary donations coming in and they were able to compile food boxes for the chapter distributions through the president’s office and other entities.
At that time, he had the help of the New Mexico National Guard to distribute boxes, but that assistance has ended, he said.
Additionally, since that time there has been a decline in food donations, said Cleveland.
“Currently we have a steady stream of water coming in to us,” he said. “We’ve been pushing that out to chapters.”
Cleveland said with only four staff members in his department who have other critical duties, it’s an overwhelming task to manage the humanitarian aid distributions.
“With the decline in donations, we have to think outside the box in terms of how we are going to continue supporting the chapters and high-risk or elderly people,” he said.
Chairwoman Eugenia Charles-Newton said the Law and Order Committee has called upon Cleveland to report the status of donations of essential items to chapters, but he only showed up once.
“We were told that a calendar was going to be developed to let the communities know which day and at what time they would be receiving donations,” Charles-Newton told the BFC.
Charles-Newton said LOC never received the calendar and Cleveland hasn’t been responding to questions.
“The calendar was going to let the communities when they would be receiving donations. We also asked for a plan,” she said. “The oversight hasn’t seen anything. We are going to subpoena him to come before the committee and answer questions about the donations.”
Charles-Newton added that there were also concerns about how humanitarian donations were being distributed.
“Many of the divisions and departments have not received the donations that were promised to them by the president’s office and the command center,” she said. “I hope that together we can hold this department accountable.”
Cleveland said now that the Navajo Nation has gone back to “regular operations,” running the humanitarian effort with only four people is a “huge challenge.”
“My staff and myself are unloading donations and building food boxes,” he said.
“As we move forward into winter, it’s going to be a challenge,” said Cleveland. “Not only that, but we only have two vehicles to push out the donations.”
Cleveland said for that reason DEM has been asking chapters to bring flatbeds to pick up donations.
“I would like more transparency in terms of the humanitarian efforts and what supplies are being delivered to the communities we serve so we can assist in making sure those items are picked up,” said Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty. “There needs to be more coordination in terms of delivery.”
Crotty stated there is a concern over who is doing community assessments.
“We do have community members who have limited access to social media or radio,” she said. “How do we work to make sure these community members are receiving services, especially if they don’t have a vehicle?”
As far as personal protective equipment, Division of Community Development Director Pearl Yellowman said that DCD had made three distributions to the 110 chapters since March that included 23,000 masks and 4,500 gallons of bleach.
“Under CJN-46-20, we did submit for CARES Act funds to provide (additional) PPEs and sanitation/cleaning for the 110 chapters,” said Yellowman.
Delegate Jimmy Yellowhair emphasized that every one of the chapter houses needs to be sanitized before they reopen.
Yellowman acknowledged that the emergency response has had its flaws since the pandemic began.
“We need to debrief and look back at all elements of the emergency and how to plan better for the future,” she said. “There’s many moving parts at the command center.”
Yellowman reported that DCD has also been working on creating a regional emergency response plan as the Nation plans for winter and a possible second wave of COVID-19.
She said DCD thought that DEM was out in the field making donations after the humanitarian effort was transferred out of the chapter branch at HCOC.
“At that point, DCD relinquished some of the staff to return back to some of the ASC (Administrative Services Center) duties,” she said.
Yellowman stated when the transition occurred, there was an understanding that the humanitarian branch would continue through DEM.
Delegate Otto Tso said it’s up to the executive branch to make sure the humanitarian effort is functioning properly and serving the needs of the people.
“I really hope they try to help Harland Cleveland’s shop to staff up because the money is there,” said Tso.