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Hardship checks delayed due to COVID-19

WINDOW ROCK

Just when people were expecting COVID-19 Hardship Assistance payments, the processing of supplemental CARES checks for elders and ARPA checks for those eligible are delayed – due to the coronavirus.

The president’s office announced on Sunday, “The high number of requests for changes of address, in addition to setbacks in the availability of personnel due to the spike in COVID-19 cases, has delayed the processing of Hardship Assistance relief.”

This means the previously announced “checks in the mail” were not yet sent out.

President Jonathan Nez said the surge in COVID-19 cases had impacted employees across all branches of government.

“We have employees who are required to quarantine, isolate and work from home due to infections and exposures,” Nez said. “We understand that our elders need relief now, and our employees are working hard, but we have to take safety precautions as well.”

Two weeks ago, the president’s office announced that the controller’s office had begun the process of distributing the $342 CARES Hardship checks to the 48,000 eligible elders, many of whom have been checking their mailboxes daily.

However, that did not happen, and checks will start going out this week instead.

“Elderly recipients can expect them in the mail this week,” the president’s office announced Sunday.

In a report to the Navajo Nation Council’s winter session on Monday, Acting Controller Elizabeth Begay told delegates that the delay in processing the checks was because more than 15 controller’s office employees tested positive for COVID-19 and the office had to be shut down for decontamination.

She confirmed the first 2,700 checks to elders had been printed on Monday, and the remaining 45,300 would be printed at the rate of 5,000 per day until all have been distributed, which means about nine business days or two weeks.

“Checks will be mailed in batches of 5,000 each day, and all checks will be placed in the mail no later than Feb. 4, 2022,” president’s office Communications Director Jared Touchin told the Navajo Times.

Once the checks for elders are processed and mailed, work will shift to the processing of ARPA Hardship Assistance checks of $2,000 for adults and $600 for children, which should start going out in February, said Begay.

Begay explained that of the total 345,000 ARPA hardship checks that will go out, the first batch would be to those who received the CARES Hardship Assistance Phase II checks last fall.

Those who received their CARES Hardship Assistance Phase I checks last January will be processed afterward because the controller’s office received 16,000 change of address forms they must input for that group.

“There will be a delay for CARES Hardship I to receive their ARPA hardship checks,” she said. “We do not want to mail the hardship check to the wrong address.”

Begay estimated it would take up to four months to process all 345,000 checks because it will require 69 check runs of 5,000 checks per day using one printer.

Based on this estimate, ARPA Hardship checks distribution will not be completed until June.

Begay said that controller’s office personnel are working long hours to process the change of address requests as quickly as possible and are looking to hire more temporary workers to help with data entry.

“The process of issuing checks is a challenging task that requires a great amount of time to ensure accountability and compliance with federal guidelines and due to the high volume of recipients,” Begay said.

According to Touchin, executive branch employees will also help the controller’s office with data entry. The controller’s office is looking into obtaining more equipment to increase their capacity to print more checks daily, speeding up the process.

Those new applicants who did not receive CARES Hardship I or II last year can apply any time through Dec. 31, 2022.

Applications are available on the controller’s office website can be submitted by mail, email, or delivered to the controller’s office in Window Rock in person.

For those who would like assistance with filling out the applications, technical assistance sessions have been scheduled in Albuquerque, Phoenix, Tucson, Salt Lake City, and in Denver. However, none have been scheduled for locations on the Navajo Nation.

Meanwhile, Vice President Myron Lizer encouraged people to “buy Navajo, buy local” to support Navajo businesses and entrepreneurs. Presumably, when their checks arrive, that is.

“Checks are being issued and mailed,” Lizer assured. “We strongly encourage our people to use the funds for essential items, supplies, bills, and other expenses to provide the much-needed relief.”

Information: www.nnooc.org or ARPAHardship@nnooc.org or 928-871-6106, 928-871-6315, 928-223-3525, 928-224-8148, 928-224-8187, 928-224-8212, 928-371-9226, 928-223-3709 or 928-223-3712.

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About The Author

Rima Krisst

Reporter and photojournalist Rima Krisst has been with the Navajo Times since July of 2018, and covers our Arts and Culture and Government Affairs beats. Prior to joining the editorial team at the Times, Krisst worked in various capacities in the areas of communications, public relations, marketing and Indian Affairs policy on behalf of the Tribes, Nations and Pueblos of New Mexico. Among her posts, she served as Director of PR and Communications for the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department under Governor Bill Richardson, Healthcare Outreach and Education Manager for the Eight Northern Pueblos, Tribal Tourism Liaison for the City of Santa Fe, and Marketing Projects Coordinator for Santa Fe Indian Market. As a writer and photographer, she has also worked independently as a contractor on many special projects, and her work has been published in magazines. Krisst earned her B.S. in Business Administration/Finance from the University of Connecticut.

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