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FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation leaders are planning how to spend $600 million they secured from a federal relief package to help governments navigate the impact of the coronavirus.

That task must be done before the Dec. 30 deadline set by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Speaker Seth Damon is sponsoring legislation that lays the groundwork to disburse the funding for COVID-19 relief efforts and other related expenses by creating the Navajo Nation CARES Fund Act.

"Through the proposed Navajo Nation CARES Fund Act, the Navajo Nation Council will consider new rules that allow participation by communities, programs and leadership towards developing an ongoing pipeline of projects that accomplish the intent of the COVID-19 relief funding the Navajo Nation has received in the time we have," Damon said in a May 7 press release that announced the bill.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez discussed an upcoming bill his office supports during an online town hall meeting on May 12.

He said the proposal provides a comprehensive approach for using the amount on projects that improve the quality of life — including bringing water, electric and internet service to homes — and readies the tribe to respond to another pandemic.

"You got the feds, you got everybody saying, 'Wash your hands with soap and water,' but our people are still hauling water. Here's a great opportunity for us to get running water to the Navajo people," Nez said.

MORE: Navajo Nation receives about $600 million in coronavirus relief funding

He explained that the bill is under review by the Office of Legislative Counsel, but an overview will be available on his office's website.

Delegate Pernell Halona participated in the town hall meeting and called on fellow delegates to act.

"Remember, it's actions that the people will see. It's actions that the people will be benefiting from. To tie it up into political struggle is not the way we need to be moving," he said.

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Halona, along with delegates Edmund Yazzie and Herman M. Daniels, were named by President Nez as sponsors for the bill from his office.

Executive branch closure extended

Nez signed a new executive order to keep divisions, departments and programs under the executive branch closed for another three weeks, due to ongoing concerns about the coronavirus.

MORE: COVID-19 cases on Navajo Nation top 3,000; Eastern Navajo Fair canceled

The branch was scheduled to reopen after May 17 but will remain closed until June 7.

"We are extending our closure. We are protecting our Navajo citizens, our staff here by doing that," Nez said before signing the document.

The presidential action does not influence the legislative and judicial branches, which have closed buildings to the public but continue operating under limited services.

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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