A Keshmish miracle? Congress extends CARES spending deadline, approves water settlement
The long-awaited coronavirus aid package includes a one-year extension for expenditure of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds, which is a great relief for tribes, who have struggled to spend the monies by Dec. 31, 2020.
It also approves the Navajo-Utah Water Rights Settlement Act, which will provide running water to 5,000 Navajo households on the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation.
On Monday night, Congress finally struck a deal and voted to approve a bipartisan $900 billion coronavirus aid package that should help millions of struggling citizens and businesses with another round of relief during what is now the worst stage of the pandemic.
The package includes immediate direct payments of $600 for individuals, and an extension of federal unemployment insurance benefits with a supplemental pandemic benefit of $300 per week for 11 weeks.
The COVID-19 relief is paired with a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill called the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021,” that funds the federal government through September.
Some are calling the passage of the long-overdue COVID-19 aid a “Christmas miracle” because it has taken seven months for Congress to agree on the details of the package as many citizens have descended into poverty and businesses have shuttered due to stay-at-home orders and other restrictions. Monday night’s vote in Congress also coincided with the winter solstice and the appearance of the “Christmas Star” formation with the “great conjunction” of the planets Jupiter and Saturn.
The approved COVID-19 relief package also includes an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program for businesses, and billions in funding for education, performing arts grants, nutrition, childcare, rental assistance, broadband, transportation, and hospitals along with COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution.
For the Navajo Nation, which was awarded a total of $714 million in CARES Act funds last spring and summer, the deadline extension is a huge relief. “Navajo Nation leadership joins the many local, state and tribal governments across the country in supporting the much-needed CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund deadline extension,” said Speaker Seth Damon. “This provides certainty as the Navajo Nation Council navigates response policy and legislation during the ongoing wave of recent Covid-19 infections.”
The package does not include additional relief for state, local and tribal governments, but it is expected that additional relief could come under the leadership of the incoming Joe Biden-Kamala Harris Administration. “None of us think this legislation is perfect, but a big bipartisan majority of us recognize the incredible amount of good it will do when we send it to the President’s desk,” said Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. “The American people have waited long enough.”
The bill is expected to be signed by President Donald Trump by Dec. 31, which will enact it into law. As an added boost to the Navajo Nation, the $1.4 omnibus appropriations bill includes approval of the Navajo-Utah Water Rights Settlement Act that will provide funding and resources for development of water projects in the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation.
“The Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement will make our future in San Juan County so much brighter,” said Delegate Nathanial Brown. “We know water is life and it’s important for any type of growth, economic development and agriculture.” Damon said the measure is “more than a milestone.”
“The Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement is a watershed moment in the Navajo Nation’s multi-generational efforts to gain access to clean water for our Navajo Utah communities,” said Damon.