Emergency funding OK'd for tribal department

Noel Lyn Smith

FARMINGTON — A bill passed by the Navajo Nation Council to provide funding for services under the tribe's Department of Family Services has been signed by President Russell Begaye.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye signs a tribal council resolution to authorize funding for programs operated by the tribe’s Department of Family Services on Tuesday in Window Rock, Ariz.

Begaye signed the measure on Tuesday to provide approximately $5 million in supplemental funding from the minimum balance of the unreserved undesignated fund balance.

The money would go toward expenses for subcontracted services related to children and elderly group homes, foster care services and public assistance.

Delegate Seth Damon sponsored the bill and successfully added it as emergency legislation to the Jan. 4 special session agenda, where it passed by a vote of 16-1.

Damon could not be reached for comment on Thursday, but the bill language states it meets the criteria for emergency legislation because direct services provided by the Department of Family Services would be impacted.

According to the bill, the department lacks sufficient funds, and foster care services had continued without payment from October to December.

In order to tap into the UUFB's minimum balance, which tribal law mandates carry a balance equal to 10 percent of the prior fiscal year's budget, the funding request had to be an emergency and council delegates had to approve waiving the law.

In the president's memorandum to Speaker LoRenzo Bates and the council, he expressed disagreement with the way the money was obtained but supported the resolution because it "provides direct assistance for the needs of the people."

Begaye also asked council members to seek the counsel of the tribe's Department of Justice when determining such fiscal matters, since the department has raised concerns about whether the council could waive sections of tribal law when dealing with finance.

He added the Office of Management and Budget is concerned about reducing the UUFB's minimum balance below 10 percent because it could affect the tribe's credit rating.

"While this is an emergency and the needs are dire, we must also be fiscally responsible and consider the financial impact it has to the Navajo Nation," Begaye wrote.

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