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Chapters need emergency money, delegate says

WINDOW ROCK

Delegate and Budget and Finance vice chair Raymond Smith wants chapters to be prepared for emergencies.

The Navajo Nation Council approved Smith’s bill (0383-19) during the winter session.

The bill requests supplemental funding of $1.4 million from the Unreserved, Undesignated Fund Balance to be used for chapters with less than $25,000 in emergency funds. This would help 78 of the 110 chapters.

“You know the weather is inclement,” said Smith. “Chapters are requesting to have funds in case there is another storm like last year.”

Eastern Navajo Agency will receive about $476,000; Fort Defiance will receive about $339,000; Northern will receive about $235,000; Western will receive $226,000 and Chinle will receive $150,000.

An October 2019 letter from the Office of Management and Budget stated there was about $16.9 million available in the UUFB. It also stated that within the 110 chapters emergency funds are inconsistent.

Smith’s bill was the only request for funding that wasn’t deleted from the Council’s agenda. When Council adopted its agenda President Jonathan Nez requested the lawmakers to hold off on any bills that requested funding from the Sihasin, UUFB (Undesignated, Unreserved Fund Balance), or other revenue sources.

Bills included a $50 million request for the Navajo Scholarship Endowment Expenditure Plan; Navajo Tribal Utility Authority’s request for $1 million; $1.4 million for Ganado Senior Citizen/Veterans Center; and Smith’s $1.4 million chapter emergency funds request.

Budget and Finance Committee member Amber Crotty said last year there was no response of any kind from the people or chapters who did not receive any emergency funding from the $3 million emergency legislation that was vetoed by Nez.

“When I re-read that (veto) memo, president’s office did indicate that we should look at how chapters are allowed to use their money,” said Crotty. “They are collectively sitting on $16 million. If they’re not allowed to move money for emergency, then what’s the fix?”

Law and Order vice chair Otto Tso said that Council should be getting reports from chapters explaining how they are spending dollars. He also said after last year’s veto chapters did not make a big deal of it, and is that evidence enough that this new bill is not worth acting on? he asked.

“I do support getting dollars to chapters in regards to emergency funds,” said Tso. “But we need some sort of information to say this is how they used it. Some chapters use their emergency dollars to buy hay. Is that appropriate? Is an animal’s life worth more than a human life?”

In anticipation of last February’s storm, dubbed “Snowcopolypse,” Nez declared a state of emergency. At the time, the Division of Community Development stated that the 110 chapters had a total of over $2.4 million in emergency funds.

Nez vetoed the $3 million approved by Council. Nez, at the time, stated that the $2.4 million was already available for chapters for emergencies. Also at the time, the UUFB was at $47,000 and the $3 million would have left the funding source in the red.

Health, Education and Human Services vice chair Carl Slater said the $25,000 is an arbitrary number and that a “performance base system” needs to be implemented in order to analyze the data and determine how Council allocates resources.

“I haven’t received an official declaration of emergency from the Commission on Emergency Management,” said Nez on Smith’s emergency funding bill. “Usually the commission would approve a state of emergency and it would come to the president for his signature. That hasn’t happened yet. So there is no state of emergency right now.”

Nez has 10 days to act on this legislation.



About The Author

Arlyssa Becenti

Arlyssa Becenti reports on Navajo Nation Council, Business, Fort Defiance Agency, New Mexico State politics and Art/fashion. 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. She can be reached at abecenti@navajotimes.com.

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