Nez’s plan OK’d, with changes
President Jonathan Nez last Friday asked the Navajo Nation Council to move forward with their vote on Legislation 0116-20 — Nez’s plan for coronavirus relief funding — and to not add any more amendments.
After more than seven hours of discussion and adding six additional amendments, the Council approved the bill by a vote of 20-1. A few weeks prior, the president had upset Council by line-item-vetoing its own plan for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding. So it was more or less: You line-item veto us, we amend you.
The bill passed Friday in order to tap into the federal CARES Act funding, which grew to $714 million this week, had been given two amendments at the Budget and Finance Committee and over 30 other amendments during the Naabik’iyati’ before it hit the Council floor.
“We got to move forward on this,” said Nez during his presentation to Council. “There was some amendments that were given to us and some of them are concerning to us, but what we need to do now is move forward. No amendments, just move forward.”
“I’ve been doing my own requests to my community members on how we should use this funding,” said Budget and Finance Committee member Nathaniel Brown regarding Nez as they discussed an amendment. “As elected people for our community, we owe it to them to listen to them and bring their concerns forward to the Navajo Nation Council. “Does he (Nez) want to legislate everything now?” he asked. “If he does, he can come back and run for Council and be a legislator.”
Last week, it looked like Council and the president’s office had come to an agreement to possibly merge the two Navajo Nation CARES fund plans. They had a work session but, in the end, Council voted down their override legislation for its own spending plan, Resolution CMY-44-20, just before they approved Nez’s plan, 0116-20.
“It seems like we got to this point in over a month,” said Resource and Development Committee member Mark Freeland. “I’m glad we are at this point to move forward considering how many lives we’ve lost. “We’re being watched,” he said. “We’ve been criticized, but we are at this point where we are able to move forward and get some relief for our people.”
One of the amendments is to set aside payroll expenses of $25 million for exempt and non-exempt employees with priorities given to first responders and Division of Public Safety employees, with $750,000 for the Ramah Navajo Department of Public Safety.
Adding onto this amendment, $1 million would be distributed in equal amounts to San Juan, McKinley, and Sandoval counties for the county volunteer fire departments to use for personal protective equipment, cleaning, and disinfecting supplies.
When Nez brought attention to 0116-20, he took pride in the Dikos Ntsaaigii-19 Relief Fund Work Group it would create. This group would be comprised of four members from the three branches of Navajo Nation government, and include representatives from Navajo chapters. The group would be tasked with creating spending plans.
But this was taken out of the legislation. Although failing to override Nez’s vetoes of its own bill, Council approved legislation 0132-20, sponsored by Speaker Seth Damon. The legislation authorized three immediate expenditures totaling $41 million of the CARES Act funding.
The legislation contains $21 million in hazard pay to be issued through the controller’s office for front-line responders and essential personnel; and $10 million for personal protective equipment through the Navajo Nation Department of Health.
The PPE includes cleaning and disinfecting supplies, face shields, face coverings, disposable gloves and more. And $10 million was approved for the Facilities Maintenance Department to begin disinfecting and cleaning public offices to make them safe for returning workers and the public.
Also, U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta ordered the final distribution of the remaining $679 million in federal CARES Act funding to tribes, including the Navajo Nation. Both Nez and Damon have said separately they are seeking a deadline extension. The deadline to spend these dollars is Dec. 31. Nez has 10 days to approve or veto both resolutions.