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Diné still waiting: Controller sends out $444 million Hardship checks, many still waiting

TSÉBIGHÁHOODZÁNÍ

Gregg Whitehat hasn’t received his $342 CARES Act Hardship Assistance check nor his $2,000 ARPA Hardship Assistance check.

Whitehat, a Vietnam veteran, is 73 years old. He lives in Naatsis’áán with his wife, Donna Whitehat.

The couple said they’ve been waiting for Gregg’s checks to show up in their post office box, checking their mail almost daily.

“Everybody else got (the CARES Fund Hardship),” Donna told the Navajo Times Wednesday afternoon. “Then people started getting their $2,000 again. We keep checking the mail, and still, nothing.

“We were given 15 phone numbers to call for the Hardship program,” she said. “Every one of the numbers I called. I’ve been calling since the end of January. They’re either disconnected or the (voicemail) is full, or to call back later.”

Donna said she and her husband also emailed the address she was provided. Their email went unanswered after several attempts for a response.

The couple decided to visit the controller’s office in Window Rock March 2 to find the cause of the lengthy hold-up.

Even though they didn’t have enough money to make the trip, the couple took a leap of faith, got into their vehicle and arrived in the capital in seven hours.
Donna said she and Gregg didn’t eat the entire trip because they didn’t have extra money for food. The money they had gone toward fuel.

“When we got there, there was a long line outside the building,” Donna explained. “We didn’t get a chance to talk to anyone. They just had a form.”

Donna said she and Gregg didn’t apply for CARES and ARPA because they received help under the Navajo Nation Hardship Assistance last year.

Why haven’t some people received their Hardship checks?

President Jonathan Nez said over 266,000 Hardship checks, totaling $444 million, have been mailed out so far.

“There have been around 4,000 returned checks either from the post office or because the person is deceased or their information isn’t correct on the checks,” Nez said. “Those are being reissued if they need to be, and others are being dispensed.”

Nez said Hardship checks are still printing. There are over 403,000 enrolled members of the Navajo Nation.

“I’m thankful to the controller’s office for doing (its) very best to issue these Hardship checks for our Navajo people,” Nez said. “They (controller’s team) work late hours. They work weekends, and they’ve been threatened.”

Bomb threat

The tribe’s administrative building March 25 was evacuated because of a bomb threat directed at the controller, Elizabeth Begay.

The incident happened at about 2:29 p.m., according to the Window Rock Police District.

Police received a call from a man saying a bomb is in the administrative building. The man then disconnected the call.

When police officers arrived at the scene, employees were evacuated to allow for a search. Window Rock Police later determined there was no threat.

“It’s unacceptable,” Nez said. “People shouldn’t be threatening Navajo Nation government officials and employees.

“Some people have yet to get their checks, and they (controller’s office team members) are working to issue those checks,” he said.

“Some failed to turn in their change of address because a lot of these checks were issued out quickly,” he said. “Afterward, we started to see the change of addresses.”

Returning calls

The Hardship Program has 22 phone numbers that people may call for assistance. Nez said one call could take up to 15 minutes or more.

“If they (a person) are asking about their check, they (controller’s office) have to look into the system, and that takes some time to check,” Nez said. “That means all 22 phone numbers are being used.

“It may ask for a message to be left, and follow-up is critical,” he said. “Elizabeth Begay has been going through (those messages) to give updates.”

Nez said Begay’s team return calls, but many times, they go unanswered.

“You know, sometimes we don’t answer a number we don’t recognize,” Nez said. “Then there’s a phone tag going on.”

The controller’s team worked to print more checks over the weekend, which were sent out on Monday, March 28.

Diné who didn’t apply for the ARPA Hardship Assistance still have time to apply until Dec. 30, 2022. Hardship 1 and 2 recipients don’t need to re-apply as they automatically qualify.

“Of course, the deadline is at the end of the year, but checks can still be issued after that date,” Nez said. “Checks go out almost every day, and only a certain amount can be printed and put into envelopes.”

The controller’s office can handle up to 20,000 checks per day, said Nez.

“We’re going to continue to enroll Navajo citizens,” he added.

The next enrollment event is April 8 at the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque.

Information: navajonationarpa.org


About The Author

Krista Allen

Krista Allen, based in Kaibeto, is editor of the Navajo Times.

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