ARPA expenditure proposal released
When the tribe’s “unfinished infrastructures, struggling economy, and inadequate education systems” were exposed further by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, it exacerbated a systemic problem the Navajo people have been dealing with since returning from Hwéeldi in 1868.
Fast forward to 2020, the tribal government received nearly $715 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, which was supposed to go toward coronavirus-related relief. The tribe ended up divvying some of the CARES money for hardship assistance.
In May, the tribe received billions of dollars from the U.S Department of Treasury. The money, like the CARES funding, is intended for recovery efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tribe’s three-branch chiefs from judicial, legislative, and executive on Friday met at Twin Arrows Casino to discuss how they could allocate the remaining $950 million in American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, according to the speaker’s office.
The remaining APRA monies have been designated to go toward more than 10,000 infrastructure and economic development projects. Also being considered is another hardship assistance.
The executive branch presented a proposal on how the ARPA money could be allocated: $220 million for chapter community projects; $220 million for housing and bathroom additions; $200 million for internet broadband connections; $200 million for water lines and wastewater projects; $160 million for power line projects; $100 million for tribal enterprises; $90 million for economic development projects; $80 million for educational initiatives for schools, tribal colleges, libraries, and youth programs; $80 million for social services; $80 million for senior centers, wellness centers, detox centers, and traditional housing; and $20 million for tourism.
Altogether, the projects are estimated to cost more than $1.4 billion.
Speaker Seth Damon on Sunday said he ultimately hopes the ARPA funds will also stimulate the tribe’s economy.
“We’re going to be pumping over a billion dollars in infrastructure on the Nation,” Damon said. “Half of that is going to be infrastructure dollars that’s going to be suitable for economic growth.
“The other half is making sure our Navajo families are finally getting water, electricity to their homes,” he said. “I think the longevity to there is it’s going to be there.”
With the ARPA funds, Damon said he hopes that after the infrastructures are put in place, it could encourage outside companies to expand their operations in the Nation.
“We just have to let individuals know that there’s that opportunity,” Damon said. “And don’t be scared of the Navajo Nation’s sovereign rainbow.
“We need to make sure that that’s something we need to share with the entire world,” he said, “that you know we’re here for expansion, we’re here for growth, and come and build your manufacturing plants on our Nation because we had the most skilled individuals in order to do that.
“And I think that this ARPA funds is laying the groundwork for that.”
Unlike the first hardship assistance the Navajo people received, the amount with the ARPA funds could be significantly lower.
“So right now, there is about $207 million that’s proposed to go to hardship payments,” Damon said. “And the recommendation from that is probably about $600 for across the board for adults and children.”
Damon said the executive branch’s proposal, however, is not set in stone. The proposal has to go through the standing committees, then the Naabik’íyáti’ Committee. But if a special session is requested, Damon doesn’t think members of the Council would not waste time on making it happen.
In addition, the proposal would take $411 million from the ARPA funds and used to reimburse the Sihasin Funds and Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance.
If another hardship assistance is approved, the disbursement process used to disburse hardship assistance checks from the CARES funding will be used again, according to the speaker’s office.
Unlike the CARES funding, which had to be spent by the end of 2020, the ARPA funds must spent by the end of 2024.
The controller’s office created a website to share all ARPA updates and information with the Navajo people. People can access the website at www.NavajoNationARPA.org.