Merger of Council’s, Nez’s plans gains steam
Will the Navajo Nation Council and the president find common ground on spending CARES Act funds?
There were encouraging developments this week. The Navajo Nation was given its portion of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act over 40 days ago and with a Dec. 31 spending deadline for the $600.5 million looming, the Nation still doesn’t have a fund management plan or legal framework in place.
Without a plan, it will slow down any spending of the money that is supposed to go to COVID-19 relief efforts.
Council and the Nez-Lizer administration have different legal frameworks in mind, and each branch wants to see its plans enacted. The first plan (CMY-44-20) is the Council’s, which Nez line-item vetoed, and which delegates are trying to resurrect.
Nez’s bill (No. 0116-20) was tabled during last Thursday’s Naabik’iyati’ Committee. It was tabled so a work session can be held to discuss merging the two.
“I’m going to repeat what I’ve been saying all along,” said Pernell Halona, a member of the Health, Education and Human Services Committee, during the Naabik’iyati’ work session Monday. “We need to move forward quickly,” he said. “I’ve been advocating all along that we need combine these two legislations in some manner.”
Chief Legislative Counsel Dana Bobroff has worked on merging the two plans. During the work session, she explained that when Nez line-item vetoed Council’s resolution, he left enough provisions that Bobroff was able to incorporate them into a new bill.
“What the merged document does is it relies on the establishment of the Navajo CARES fund as established in CMY-44-20 in Title 12,” said Bobroff. “I took particular care so the merged legislation works whether or not the override legislation is approved by Council.”
The Navajo Nation CARES Fund — a holding account for the money — comes from CMY-44-20, and a lot of the criteria for the expenditure plan also comes from that bill. From the Nez’s proposal, Bobroff kept the 12-member work group that would be in charge of developing spending plans.
“Also with this merger, 0116-20 retains the $50 million immediate allocation,” said Bobroff. “That pretty much sums up the merger. It would not require new legislation.” The immediate $50 million would be used for personal protective equipment, food, water and care packages for Navajo people, health care facilities, and governmental needs that will help employees work under safe conditions.
“The immediate $50 million, there is a requirement if it’s not spent by August 31 it returns to the CARES Fund,” said Bobroff. “The president, the speaker, the chief justice shall jointly develop and prepare an expenditure plan that incorporates the needs of the whole of the Navajo Nation, including needs of all three branches.”
The Department of Justice agreed with Bobroff’s merged legislation for the most part. The merging of the two would mean Council would have to amend the president’s bill rather than revive its own legislation, to save time.
“I think its good for the public to know how much time and coordination it’s going to take to merge 0116-20 with the current law of the Navajo CARES Act,” said Budget and Finance Committee member Amber Kanazbah Crotty.
The Council had held work sessions with programs, divisions and departments to get a sense of where they could spend the money. As a Nation and as the three branches, they’ve already had discussions and maybe the 0116-20 work group isn’t needed after all, said Crotty. “If we move forward with a work group that appears … (it) would delay any expenditure plans for 15 days after it’s signed into law,” said Crotty.
“We, as a Nation, have the expenditure plan needed for water lines, electricity, telecommunication and other projects.” In more discussion during the 4.5-hour work session, Law and Order Committee member Eugene Tso said COVID-19 isn’t a time for debate but rather action.
“It’s already here,” said Tso. “That’s why I am wondering why we are doing this and that. We all know the needs of the people in our area, that’s why we are here. We don’t need to speak about it again and again and again.”
During Nez’s Facebook town hall meeting on Tuesday, Nez encouraged viewers to speak to their delegates about approving 0116-20. Looking toward opening the government next month, Nez said some of the $50 million could go toward hazard pay for those who have been working during the pandemic, cleaning Navajo Nation facilities and testing employees for the virus.
“0116-20 is before them,” said Nez. “They tabled it for a work session … continue to let your Council delegate know we need 0116-20 to be approved.”