Council approves Hardship payments of $2,000 per person, $600 for minors
In a victory for all Diné who’ve suffered life-changing hardship and losses due to COVID-19, the Navajo Nation Council Wednesday night passed an emergency bill (No. 263-21), sponsored by Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, approving $557 million for Hardship Assistance.
This means payments of $2,000 for adults and $600 for minors.
The delelgates’ vote was 18 in favor and 2 opposed.
This money is more than a quarter of the $2.1 billion in American Rescue Act funds given to the Navajo Nation.
“The Hardship can’t wait,” Crotty told the Navajo Times last week. “ARPA was signed in March. We got the money in May. The people need relief.”
After more than six hours of debate in Wednesday’s special session, Crotty’s bill, which was originally proposed $207 million for Hardship Assistance ($600 per person) due to the 10% ARPA cap set by Council, their resolution (No. CJY-41-21) was amended to waive the cap and increase the amounts.
Delegates for the most part agreed that it was past time that the people were given the immediate assistance they need, especially in the face of a new COVID-19 surge, driven by the Delta and Omicron variants, and increased expenses brought on by the winter season.
The amendment to increase the hardship amount from $600 to $2,000 for adults was proposed by delegates Nathanial Brown and Charlaine Tso, which Crotty supported.
“I think our people have suffered so much and we continue to suffer, especially those who are barely making ends meet, who are just surviving,” said Brown.
He said many people are coping with long-term health problems from having COVID-19 and can no longer work.
Additionally, rates of domestic violence, suicide and depression have gone up on Navajo due to the impacts of the pandemic, he said.
“With this money, I know that will help them a little bit,” he said. “I think it can give them some hope.”
Brown said many people have urgently contacting delegates saying they need help now.
“Navajo leaders continue to hear directly from people who are displaced, suffering and vulnerable,” said Crotty. “Our intention for this emergency legislation is to provide direct winter relief to families to pay for water and electric bills, groceries, and more.”
Only delegates Jamie Henio and Raymond Smith voted against the bill.
While they supported the original $600 payments proposed in the original bill, they said they couldn’t support the higher amount.
Henio, Smith and other delegates expressed concern that the increase in Hardship payments would take away from long-term infrastructure projects, some of which are included in the president’s office’s proposed bill (No. 257-21).
Crotty’s bill essentially peeled off the Hardship proposal from the executive branch ARPA bill that would allocate $1.16 billion for infrastructure projects.
“COVID is still here and creating chaos in families,” said Crotty. “There’s still a strong need to help at every individual, household level, and this funding allows for that. I know it’s a challenge, because we also need infrastructure, but we need to make sure that our people have a sound well-being.”
Crotty’s bill states that the “financial devastation” on the Navajo people by the COVID-19 pandemic “has risen to emergency levels,” which makes it vital that they be provided “immediate financial assistance.”
“It is in the best interest of the Navajo people to enact the (Hardship Assistance plan) … to counteract limited access to direct services necessary to recover from the devastation cause by the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigate exposure to future variants,” states the bill.
“This increase in the Hardship will also help in spending down that over $2 billion that we have sitting in the bank,” said Brown. “What we learned from CARES is that we need to spend it. This is in the best interest of our people. We have to invest in them.”
Besides that, Brown said it’s “the people’s money.”
“Because of their census numbers, that’s how we got the money,” he said. “It’s legally theirs.”
On March 11, President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to help the country recover from the severe health and economic impacts of the COVID-19.
The bill included $20 billion in Fiscal Recovery Funds for the 574 federally recognized tribes.
For its share, the Navajo Nation received $2.079 billion with its first allocation of $1.86 billion on May 28, based on certified enrollment data, and an additional $217.9 million on Aug. 16, based on tribal employment data.
The ARPA funds were intended to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency and its negative economic impacts.
Individuals who applied through the CARES Act Hardship program will not have to reapply and check disbursements will follow the financial process previously approved by the controller’s office.
Speaker Seth Damon has 10 days to certify the legislation then President Jonathan Nez has 10 days to approve or veto the bill.
“I hope the people are able to see that the Nation’s leadership is doing everything that they can, that the reason why we take so long debating is that we have to be very careful,” Brown said.
“I think in this pandemic,” he said, “the greatest investment is in our people and to make sure that they’re going to fight for the next day… we’re all in this together.”