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Nez approves hardship relief for the People

WINDOW ROCK

In a late day press release on Friday, the Office of the President announced that President Jonathan Nez approved both $49 million in direct hardship relief for Navajo enrollees (Legislation No. 201) and $90M for the 110 Chapters (in Legislation 197), which will be administered through Window Rock.

“We understand that there is a great need for financial relief due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” stated Nez.

This means that all $714M of the Navajo Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Stimulus Act funds received from the federal government have now been appropriated, a major milestone.

Per the hardship relief bill, direct payments of $1,500 for eligible enrolled adults (18 and above) and $500 for minors will be distributed through the Office of the Controller, which also received $20 million to help administer the funds through Leg. 197.

“Thank you, President Nez, for signing this legislation,” said an exuberant Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton, who sponsored Leg. 201. “Leadership has taken a step in the right direction by helping the Diné people across the globe. Working together, putting politics aside, and putting the people first is always good for the people.”

In signing Leg. 197, sponsored by Delegate Mark Freeland, Nez also approved $15M for broadband initiatives to expand internet access and $2M for the Division of Community Development to help administer the chapter relief funds using the 50/50 formula. Those funds will also be distributed and monitored through the OOC.

“This means a lot to our communities,” said Freeland. “Our chapters can now move forward in addressing the human and social services at the local level. Many of our chapter officials and staff have been working hard during this pandemic. They have stepped up in terms of being available and helpful to our people. I just want to say thank you to them.”

Application process, yet to be approved

The application criteria and eligibility requirements for the individual hardship payments will be determined by the Budget and Finance Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee.

Once the application process is approved through legislation, the OOC will develop an automated web-portal to receive applications.

Controller Pearline Kirk recommended earlier this week that the application process should be kept as simple as possible to ensure it can be distributed expeditiously.

While, the $49M approved today is not enough to cover all members of the Navajo Nation, the good news is that at least some of the unspent $338.7 million could be redirected to bolster the hardship assistance fund and direct payments to the people.

Kirk informed delegates on Tuesday that if all 327,726 enrolled Navajos were to receive the full $1,500 direct payments for adults and $500 for minor children, that would cost an estimated $400 million.

It is up to the Budget and Finance Committee to identify which projects that have not demonstrated they will be completed by Dec. 30 can be reallocated to the hardship assistance fund through Naabik’iyati’ Committee resolution.

According to the OPVP, there will also be an opportunity to increase funding for hardship relief if the chapters do not expend the $90M allocation by the end of November.

As of Oct. 5, $50.7 million of the Navajo CARES Act funds appropriated had been spent, with $98.7 million encumbered, leaving an unspent budget balance of $388.7 million. The approval of the two legislations by Nez today appropriates the remaining $176 in the Navajo CARES Fund pot.

“We will fight this monster that has taken so many of our Diné people and survive it together, helping each other along the way,” said Charles-Newton.


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