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Emergency funds for chapters tabled

WINDOW ROCK

A resolution to provide all 110 chapters with an allocation of $1.8 million in supplemental funding from the unreserved, undesignated fund balance for emergency fund accounts was tabled.

The Navajo Nation Council mandated the tabling for 30 days on Oct. 28 during a special session.

There was little to no discussion or debate about motion to table. However, earlier in the day during a meeting of the Naabik’iyati’ Committee a lengthy discussion was held on the proposal.
The sponsor of the resolution, Delegate Thomas Walker Jr., discussed the reasoning for his proposal.

“We continue to be in a state of emergency so we know that when inclement weather comes in, that causes additional burdens and hardship on our people,” Walker said.

“So, we do not want to have emergencies on top of other emergencies,” he said, “although that’s something we can’t help.”

He also said it is good for chapters to have resources readily available for the Navajo people and residents.

Pearl Yellowman, director of the Division of Community Development, said many of the chapters were impacted by weather related issues and the pandemic, which has depleted their emergency funding.

“They (chapters) all have been impacted and they all have been tending to their community and community needs especially during the pandemic,” Yellowman said.

During the pandemic, the chapters were a point of distribution of PPE, materials and other needed equipment.

She said she appreciated the dedication of the chapters to provide support and mitigation to residents.

“That is why we’ve worked in the past with other delegates and now Delegate Thomas Walker to restore much needed emergency funds to the chapters,” she said.

Depleted accounts

Concern over chapters depleting accounts into the negatives and going over budget were brought up.

However, Yellowman said this happened because of a resolution from October of last year that would reimburse chapters for funds used for fuel and other items.

The chapters were then advised of this but, after Nov. 20, 2020, they learned that many of the items submitted by chapters were not approved for reimbursement.

“One of the chapters, like Thoreau, may have used their funds for fuel sources, like gave wood to the community members, with the high anticipation that we would get those funds reimbursed back to the chapters under (the resolution),” Yellowman said, “and sadly nothing was approved.”

Delegate Carl Slater voiced concerns about the legislation and said it is not sound because it is appropriating money to negative balances. This sets bad accounting principles for the Nation and for governance, he said.

He said examples of chapters that are currently in negative balances in their emergency accounts include Thoreau, with -$99,689; Tohajilee, -$67,286; Crownpoint, -$17,253,; and Iyanbito, -$16,195.

“It’s obviously because of good work that these chapters were doing, but the appropriate thing for the chapter is to get their community support to do a budget transfer in a timely manner,” Slater said.

“To me, these are huge red flags for audit findings,” he said, “and it’s as if the Nation’s governing body is saying, ‘it’s fine if you overspend because we’ll always come in and bail it out.’”

He said the only agency that does not have a negative balance is Central and he thinks that speaks to the quality of the ASC who oversees the chapters and makes sure there’s appropriate transactions taking place at the chapter level.

He thinks in the current legislation, there is no equity and it merely bails out those chapters that have not engaged in appropriate accounting principles.

He said that this is not about the money being spent correctly or for good purposes, instead it is about financial systems and governance of the Nation.

In the special session, Delegate Rick Nez said it is good that Council replenishes emergency funds for the chapters and said on the local level the funds are normally extended pursuant to the chapters’ management system.

“Especially during this pandemic that we were facing and still in, I believe we just need to replenish some of these emergency funds before winter really sets,” he said. “A lot of our elderlies are usually without firewood, propane, wood pellets, and other necessities for the winter so this would really help them.”

However, he acknowledged the concerns brought up and believes there must be updated information provided by the Division of Community Development, Office of Management and Budget, and controller’s office.

Due to these concerns and the need for updated information, Nez motioned to table the legislation for 30 days.

The resolution passed, 11-8.


About The Author

Hannah John

Hannah John is from Coyote Canyon, N.M., and currently based out of Gallup as a reporter for the Navajo Times. She is Bit’ah’nii (Within His Cover), born for Honágháahnii (One Who Walks Around), maternal grandfather is Tábaahí (Water Edge) and paternal grandfather is Tódich’ii’nii (Bitter Water). She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor’s in communications and a minor in Native American studies. She recently worked with the Daily Lobo and the Rio Grande Sun.

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