Navajo Nation president signs bill to fund youth employment at chapters

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye speaks on Friday at the Raytheon Diné Facility south of Farmington during a dedication for a new $5 million warehouse.

FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye has signed legislation to provide $2.16 million in supplemental funding for the 110 chapter houses to use for summer youth employment.

Begaye signed the bill on July 1, according to a press release from his office.

Of the allocated amount, the 20 chapters in the Northern Agency will receive $291,575.

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The president line-item vetoed a second legislation that would have supplied $1.4 million for a similar program managed by tribe's Office of Diné Youth.

The bill to support youth employment at the chapters carried stipulations for distributing the funding.

According to the bill, each chapter is eligible to receive $35,000, but chapters with current balances of more than $35,000 for youth employment are not eligible to receive the appropriation until that amount is spent.

Chapters that have negative balances in it youth employment account would need to clear the balance before receiving the allocation, the bill states.

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Despite the provisions, the president's approval was welcomed by Tsé Alnaozt'i'í Chapter, where nine high school and college students have been hired for the summer.

Johnnie Esplain Jr., the chapter's account maintenance specialist, said the chapter typically hires up to 30 students during the summer, but due to limited funding the number of participants was reduced.

"For a remote place like Sanostee, it is beneficial," Esplain said of the supplemental funding.

He added that students undergo interviews as part of the hiring process, then they are matched with duties that reflect their interests.

Students also attend workshops and events that help develop job skills, he said.

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On Wednesday, students attended a financial workshop by personnel from Wells Fargo Bank in Shiprock, Esplain said.

In press releases from the president's office and the Office of the Speaker, tribal leaders viewed the supplemental funding as a way to help students purchase school supplies, clothing and other educational expenses.

Begaye explained his reason in a memorandum for using the line-item veto for supplemental funding for the Department of Diné Youth.

In the president's veto message to the Navajo Nation Council, he wrote that approving the request would leave less than $1 million in the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance.

The balance of the UUFB is $6.8 million, according to a March 28 memorandum from the Office of the Controller.

Begaye added that distribution from the UUFB is used to assist programs that help all tribal members and there are pending bills that seek funding from the UUFB.

"With our impending shortfall, we as leaders must also balance appropriations against all the services the Navajo Nation provides for our people, this includes assistance to our elders, veterans, employees and many others," Begaye wrote.

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