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Council OKs plan to pay out remaining hardship money

WINDOW ROCK

In a special session June 25, the Navajo Nation Council unanimously approved a bill to establish a Phase II CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Expenditure Plan.

The bill would provide funds to those eligible Navajo tribal members who did not receive funding under the first hardship assistance payments.

Funding for the second phase will come out of the remaining $41.97 million in the Hardship Fund from the Navajo allocation from the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, plus any investment income.

In August 2020, the Navajo Nation Council decided to provide financial assistance to Navajo individuals and families facing financial hardship because of the coronavirus pandemic and public health orders and adopted the Navajo Nation CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Expenditure Plan.

Of the $361.5 million that ended up in the hardship pot, which included reversions from unfinished CARES Act projects and services, $319.5 million was expended for Hardship payments to 308,000 Navajos.

Acting Controller Elizabeth Begay confirmed that her office has now been able to retrieve the hardship applicant information from Baker Tilly, the accounting firm that former Controller Pearline Kirk had contracted to manage the Hardship Assistance portal.

With an amendment added by Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton, the bill prioritizes payments to 1,865 Navajos who applied by the Nov. 30, 2020, hardship application deadline but didn’t receive checks because certain documentation, such as CIB, was not submitted, or personal information such as date of birth or addresses were incorrect or did not match up with existing records.

“The legislation is opening up the hardship to everyone who didn’t apply,” Charles-Newton said. “My amendment is saying that the 1,865 people who applied before the deadline but did not get their checks would be processed first.

“They did everything they were supposed to do but they ran into problems that were outside of their control,” she said. “It’s just a matter of being fair.”

Begay said a total of $2.45 million will be needed to process the checks to the 1,865 applicants out of the remaining $41.97 million and those payments need to be made by the deadline of July 31, assuming any outstanding application issues are resolved.

For those individuals, the payments of $1,350 for adults and $450 for children will be consistent with what prior applicants received.

After the payments to the 1,865 are dispersed, Begay said the remaining 90,135 out of the 399,494 enrolled Navajos who didn’t apply for hardship assistance or missed the deadline would be able to apply for payments out of the balance of $39.52 million as part of Phase II.

However, if all 90,135 apply they would only receive an estimated $438 per person, she said.

The bill states that the controller’s office will “establish, publish, and implement a 60-day application period for eligible Navajos who have not previously received Hardship Assistance funds….”

“Our office has the authority to establish the start date and end date of the 60-day application period for Phase II,” Begay said.

As it stands, Begay said they plan to open the application period on Aug. 1 and it will last through Sept. 30.

Begay suggested prior that if the remaining funds ($39.52 million) in Hardship Assistance fund run out, Council can probably access American Rescue Plan Act funding to accommodate all of Navajos who did not receive the first round of Hardship Assistance at a larger amount than $438 per person.

However, that would also have to be legislated by Council.

Separately, Begay has estimated it would take another $600 million to accommodate 399,494 enrolled Navajos with a new round of ARPA Hardship Assistance at $2,000 per adult and $1,000 per child, which would represent about a third of the $1.9 billion of ARPA funds allocated to the Navajo Nation.


About The Author

Rima Krisst

Reporter and photojournalist Rima Krisst has been with the Navajo Times since July of 2018, and covers our Arts and Culture and Government Affairs beats. Prior to joining the editorial team at the Times, Krisst worked in various capacities in the areas of communications, public relations, marketing and Indian Affairs policy on behalf of the Tribes, Nations and Pueblos of New Mexico. Among her posts, she served as Director of PR and Communications for the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department under Governor Bill Richardson, Healthcare Outreach and Education Manager for the Eight Northern Pueblos, Tribal Tourism Liaison for the City of Santa Fe, and Marketing Projects Coordinator for Santa Fe Indian Market. As a writer and photographer, she has also worked independently as a contractor on many special projects, and her work has been published in magazines. Krisst earned her B.S. in Business Administration/Finance from the University of Connecticut.

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