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Nez to unveil ARPA plan at Twin Arrows Oct. 15

WINDOW ROCK

Finally, the president’s office will share proposed plans for spending American Rescue Plan Act funds with the Navajo Nation Council for consideration and approval this Friday at Twin Arrows Casino Resort.

“Our goal is for the executive and legislative branches to jointly work together to get legislation for over $950 million in infrastructure projects approved by the end of October 2021,” President Jonathan Nez said in an Oct. 1 leadership meeting request to Speaker Seth Damon.

Through resolution (CJY-41-21), the Navajo Nation Council established the Fiscal Recovery Fund and Expenditure Authorization Process for ARPA money, including procurement and oversight guidelines that were signed into law by Nez on Aug. 2.

The Navajo Nation received $1.86 billion in ARPA funds from the U.S. Treasury on May 28, based on certified enrollment data, and an additional $217.9 million on Aug. 16, based on tribal employment figures.

The funds are intended to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency and its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, nonprofits, impacted industries, plus premium pay for essential workers, investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, and to replace lost revenue for local governments to shore up public services.

As of today, there are no ARPA spending bills in the pipeline and $2.1 billion sits unspent in the Navajo Nation ARPA FRF account. The controller’s office’s ARPA “accountability platform” set up to share expenditure data has no financial information on it to date (https://navajonationarpa.org).

“The executive branch has been working with our division directors, enterprises and staff to address the assignments and directives outlined in (Resolution) CJY-41 -21,” Nez said. “We have made a lot of progress these past two months and will provide an update to the Council delegates.”

Nez told Damon information will be shared at the leadership meeting about the Fiscal Recovery Fund Office, UUFB/Sihasin reimbursements, CARES refunded projects, revenue loss calculations (due to COVID-19) and three proposed expenditure plans for Council’s review:

  • Plan No. 1 will provide funding for water, wastewater, powerlines, broadband, bathroom additions, and housing.
  • Plan No. 2 will provide funding directly to the chapters.
  • Plan No. 3 will provide funding for social services, education, health, economic development, and tourism.

This is welcome news for everyone who has been waiting for the president’s office plan for months, including Council delegates.

A request to the OPVP for confirmation of time and call-in information for the joint OPVP/Council leadership meeting was not responded to by press time.

FRF Office unstaffed

On Oct. 4, Nez issued an executive order establishing the framework for the Navajo Nation Fiscal Recovery Fund Office.

According to the OPVP, the FRF Office will be a clearinghouse for APRA-related activities that will educate the public, collaborate with Navajo Nation departments and offices, and review, approve and oversee projects and ensure compliance with ARPA and Navajo Nation laws.

“With the establishment of the Navajo Nation Fiscal Recovery Fund Office, the Navajo Nation is prepared to move forward with the initial distributions of the American Rescue Plan Act funds for defunded CARES Act allocations and appropriations that were funded through the Sihasin Fund and the UUFB, which were previously authorized,” Nez said in a statement.

“As for new projects, (the resolution) requires that we work with the Navajo Nation Council to finalize and fund them,” he said.

Any ARPA money that is going to be spent first has to be approved by a two-thirds vote of Council and signed by the president, which means any expenditure proposals will have to be put into legislation.

The FRF Office will consist of an executive director and staff in three main oversight areas, including a “central support” team dedicated to financial management, personnel management, and reporting; an “infrastructure delivery support” team of project managers, schedulers, and technical writers; and a “regulatory support” team.

In the resolution, Council allocated about $200 million, or 10% of the Nation’s ARPA funds to the president’s and the speaker’s offices ($180/$20 million, respectively) to manage the ARPA projects and expenditures.

This money will help fund the FRF Office operations.

“The funding that the executive branch was allocated is safe and accounted for and will begin to be expended for administrative, central support service, and regulatory costs…” Nez said. “The funds will be used over a five-year period to fully implement the American Rescue Plan Act funds.”

Per the bill, the president’s office is mandated to contract with qualified Navajo-owned enterprises/authorities/corporations or businesses to assist in the implementation, management and monitoring of FRF funds.

In response to a request regarding who the executive director of the FRF Office is, what other staff have been hired, and what the phone number is, the OPVP communications director responded, “We anticipate the appointment of an executive director in the near future.

“The implementation of the ARPA duties and funds will be a very challenging task, so the process of selecting a person is being done carefully,” said Jared Touchin, spokesman for the president’s office. “Other staff will be appointed once a director is in place.”

Touchin added that the physical office, which will be located at the Navajo Department of Transportation building, is still being set up with equipment and other resources.

“Once a phone number is established, we will compile all of the info into a press release for the public,” Touchin said.

Nez said that leadership understands the concerns of the Navajo people and needs to speed up internal processes to spend the funds as quickly as possible, while providing accountability and ensuring compliance with federal requirements.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to improve the quality of life for our people now and future generations,” Nez said.

On Sept. 1, the Budget and Finance Committee passed a resolution to establish the ARPA FRF application procedures, forms, and expenditure templates.

That legislation, which can be viewed at dibb.nnols.org, includes information on how Navajo Nation government entities, chapters, Navajo Nation-owned business, and external entities are supposed to submit proposals to apply for ARPA funds.

However, none of the instructions have been officially shared with the public, either by the president’s or the speaker’s office.

Non-government entities, including Navajo small businesses and nonprofits, remain on the sidelines anxiously waiting for more details on how to bid for or submit proposals for ARPA project contracts.


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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