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Some off-reservation families can’t use burial assistance

Navajo Times | Ravonelle Yazzie


Families of those who have lost their lives to COVID-19 are entitled to $2,500 in funeral expenses from the Division of Social Services. But for some this assistance has become too cumbersome to obtain.

During a June 17 Health, Education and Human Services Committee meeting, Law and Order Committee Vice Chair Otto Tso said Navajos living off the reservation have not been able to claim the benefit because it is only good at mortuaries that are contracted with the tribe. He said the Navajo Nation is discriminating toward its own people and he wants the oversight to look into it.

“There are about five families who reached out to me,” said Tso. “Our Navajo people out there are being singled out.”

During the meeting Jess Begay, Jr. spoke of his father’s recent passing of COVID-19. Jess Begay, Sr. had been fighting the virus for a month when he recently passed. The family could not utilize the death benefit because the Division of Social Services only contacts with 11 mortuaries.

“All the traveling arrangements to get him home, all the mortuaries we had to contact, the type of burial he wanted, things like that add up,” said Begay. “I got into contact with Social Services but was given the runaround.”

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The Division of Social Services reported these contracts are in place in order to make sure services are sufficiently provided, as well as to follow the procurement guidelines.

“In order to make payment to any mortuary … it requires a contract to be in place,” said Deannah Neswood-Gishey, executive director of Navajo Division of Social Services. “The contract ensures that the mortuaries are doing the services that are required.”

Neswood-Gishey said the division has reached out to mortuaries in Holbrook, Winslow, and Flagstaff and they did not want to enter into a contract with the Navajo Nation.

Begay’s family lives in Flagstaff and he said when they spoke to mortuaries there they were told they don’t do business with the Navajo Nation because many times the Nation has fallen more than 90 days behind on payment.

“As a member of the Navajo Nation I felt ashamed of us,” said Begay as he gave his appreciation to Tso for his assistance. “The runaround is not good to go through when you lost your dad.”

An emotional Tso said Begay’s testimony isn’t the only one he has heard.

“If this is happening in Western Navajo,” said Tso. “I guarantee it’s going on in your agency. It’s going on in your hometown. In this case I see Jess Begay Sr. being discriminated because they can’t get money out to that mortuary, but by law and policy (he) still qualifies to receive those funds because he’s still a member of the Navajo Nation.”

About The Author

Arlyssa Becenti

Arlyssa Becenti reported on Navajo Nation Council and Office of the President and Vice President. Her clans are Nát'oh dine'é Táchii'nii, Bit'ahnii, Kin łichii'nii, Kiyaa'áanii. She’s originally from Fort Defiance and has a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University. Before working for the Navajo Times she was a reporter for the Gallup Independent.


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