Resolution provides additional $6.3 million to program

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FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye signed a Tribal Council resolution on March 3 to provide approximately $6.3 million in supplemental funding to help Navajo Head Start.

A day before the president signed the resolution, his office issued a press release that explained federal funding to Navajo Head Start had been reduced, and a federal court had denied a preliminary injunction filed on behalf of the program.

Court documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia state the tribe operates Navajo Head Start by a federal grant administered by the Administration for Children and Families under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Administration for Children and Families notified the tribe in September that funding for fiscal year 2018 would be reduced from $23 million to $15.7 million because the tribe has been unable to achieve or maintain enrollment of 2,068 children, court documents state.

On Jan. 19, the administration set the amount of $15.7 million for fiscal year 2018, which started on March 1.

In the resolution signed by Begaye, the supplemental funding would be available to Navajo Head Start if the program did not receive federal funding on March 1.

The supplemental funding would only be available to June 30, according to the resolution.

The president's office did not respond to follow-up questions from The Daily Times about the supplemental funding and legal action today.

Navajo Head Start operates two programs in facilities across the reservation. Early Head Start supports children younger than 3 years old and Head Start supports children ages 3 to 5.

On Feb. 2, the Navajo Nation filed a complaint against Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar regarding the funding decrease, as well as alleging the department violated policies by failing to notify the tribe of its right to appeal the reduction.

An affidavit from Elvira Bitsoi, acting assistant superintendent for Navajo Head Start, which was attached to court documents, stated a reduction in work force and services would take place if funding was not restored to $23 million.

On Feb. 28, a federal judge denied the tribe's motion for a preliminary injunction and ordered the parties to propose a schedule to manage further proceedings for the case.

The Navajo Nation Council approved the bill that contained the supplemental funding request on Feb. 16.

Speaker LoRenzo Bates said in the statement that when the council considered the bill, one delegate described it as a "bail out" for the federal government.

"Council again is put in a position to fix issues that should not have jeopardized our children's education. Going off of that notion, it is incumbent upon President Begaye and his administration to straighten up Navajo Head Start and get the program on the right track," Bates said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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