Director named to oversee $2.1B in spending
On Oct. 28, the president’s office announced the appointment of Division of General Services Director Tom Platero to serve as the interim executive director for the newly established Navajo Nation Fiscal Recovery Fund Office.
The office is tasked with administering almost $2.1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds. His appointment became effective on Nov. 1.
Platero previously served as the executive director of the Office of Legislative Services from 2012 to 2020, which means he is very knowledgeable about how legislation is drafted, put before council and monitored.
“Mr. Platero’s knowledge and experience will serve to move our Nation forward with the full implementation of the American Rescue Plan Act funds,” said President Jonathan Nez.
“He has extensive experience working with the executive and legislative branches,” he said, “and understands the internal processes and challenges that have to be addressed to advance the use of the Fiscal Recovery Funds.”
Nez said that under Platero’s leadership, General Services made many positive internal changes since the departure of the former director, Lombardo Aseret, in February.
The DGS deputy director, Loretta Largo, will carry on the duties of division director position while Platero oversees the FRF Office.
“We have full confidence that delegated-Director Loretta Largo will do a great job and carry on those improvements,” stated the president’s office.
Meanwhile, Nez said the executive branch is working diligently with the legislative branch to prepare spending plans and resolutions for Navajo ARPA hardship assistance, infrastructure development, and other priorities.
The introduction of legislation is expected to begin this week, he said.
On Oct. 15, Nez shared the executive branch plan with the Navajo Nation Council, which would provide at least $780 million for water, powerlines, broadband, housing, and bathroom additions; $207 million for hardship assistance; $350 million for direct services in communities related to education, health care, social services, economic development and tourism; $220 million for chapter projects; and $100 million for enterprises.
“The implementation of the ARPA funds is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in the future of the Navajo people and to provide relief for our people now, as well,” said Nez.
Under Platero, the FRF Office will serve as a clearinghouse for APRA related activities including educating the public, collaborating with Navajo Nation departments and offices, reviewing, approving, and overseeing FRF projects and ensuring compliance with provisions of ARPA and Navajo Nation laws.
“We want this office to succeed,” said Vice President Myron Lizer. “By that, we mean carrying out the responsibilities thoroughly and with accountability and transparency while implementing the ARPA funds to help our people and our communities, in the short-term and long-term.
The FRF Office will initially be housed at the Navajo Division of Transportation office complex, located near Tse Bonito. Platero said he plans to have the office operating this week and will begin the staffing process immediately.
“This office plays a major role in moving our Nation forward, together,” said Platero. “I appreciate the support and confidence of President Nez and Vice President Lizer. I am excited to take on the challenge of getting this office into full operation and helping our people.”
Platero did not respond to a request for an interview from the Navajo Times.
“Mr. Platero has been very busy getting the office situated,” said president’s office Communications Director Jared Touchin. “We can accommodate the interview request once the office is settled in a little more.
“Mr. Platero mentioned that one of his top priorities is to make public info regarding the new office more accessible,” he said. “We will be in touch.”
Platero, originally from Round Rock, Arizona, is Táchii’nii and born for Tó baazhni’ázhi. His maternal grandfather is Bit’ahnii and his paternal grandfather is Ásh??hi.
“Mr. Platero has proven to be a person who can create change and get things accomplished,” said Lizer. “He has our full support as we move forward.”
In other ARPA news, last week the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the State, Local, Tribal and Territorial Fiscal Recovery, Infrastructure and Disaster Relief Flexibility Act.
This would extend the deadline to use CARES Act funds by a year and give tribes and counties greater flexibility in how to handle ARPA funds.
However, according to the Navajo Nation Washington Office, despite strong bipartisan support in the Senate, few House Democrats have expressed support for the bill.
Nez is calling on members of Congress to pass the bill so the Nation can have more flexibility in spending ARPA funds.
As it stands now, ARPA recovery funds are intended to be used to respond to COVID-19 and negative economic impacts, for premium pay for front-line workers, to replace lost revenue to support local government services, and for investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.
Many infrastructure needs such as paving roads or connecting homes to electricity are not eligible expenses unless covered by the portion of the FRF that replaces lost revenue.
If passed, the Relief Flexibility Act would allow tribal governments to spend up to 30% of their FRF, which would amount to about $600 million for Navajo, on select transportation infrastructure projects.