Bill would fund winter preparedness efforts

Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Nation

FARMINGTON — With the arrival of winter, one bill heading to the Navajo Nation Council is asking delegates to approve funding to help residents affected by adverse weather conditions.

The legislation requests $2 million in supplemental funding from the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance for the 110 chapters to use for emergency preparedness.

The fund's balance was $14.4 million as of Dec. 29, according to a memorandum from the Office of the Controller.

According to the bill's language, 50 percent of the funding would be equally distributed among the 110 chapters. The remaining half would be divided based on the number of registered voters within each chapter.

Speaker LoRenzo Bates is sponsoring the bill, which was posted on the council's website Tuesday, starting the five-day public comment period.

It was assigned to the Resources and Development, Budget and Finance and Naa'bik'íyáti committees and the council, where final authority rests.

Bates said on Wednesday that the bill is in response to a directive from the council, which is concerned with chapters' abilities to respond to residents during the winter, especially those who are elderly or veterans or are facing financial hardship.

"They want to make sure they are taken care of," Bates said.

It would be at the discretion of chapters officials to decide how to spend the funds, what types of assistance to provide and the criteria to qualify, he said.

If a chapter does not use the entire amount this winter, the remainder could be used next winter, he added.

Not every chapter operates the same or faces the same issues, Bates said, adding that chapters in the Western Agency could have more transportation issues due to muddy roads, but such conditions might not affect residents in chapters with lots of paved roads.

“Each chapter is unique in its own way,” Bates said.

Some chapter houses have established ALERT, or authorized local emergency response team, groups.

Gerald Henderson, president of the Tsé Alnaozt’i’í Chapter ALERT, said the funding would help chapters address emergency situations, like storms.

Part of the Tsé Alnaozt’i’í Chapter boundary is located on the Ch’ooshagi Mountains. Henderson said older Navajos who live at the base of the mountains sometimes have difficulty traveling when snow accumulates. This funding, he said, could provide resources to those individuals.

Upper Fruitland Chapter Manager Alvis Kee said there is a need for chapters to be proactive about preparing for adverse weather.

Kee said one step his chapter has taken is partnering with community health representatives to deliver products like coal and propane.

"I think it's a good thing (Bates is) trying to look out for the welfare of the nation," Kee said about the legislation.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.