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Navajo Nation Council gives the green light for CARES Act bill

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Council passed a modified version of legislation that called for using a portion of $600 million the tribe received from the federal government for coronavirus relief.

Delegates approved Legislation No. 0116-20 to use approximately $93.1 million from the total amount the tribe received from Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which passed with bipartisan support in Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in late March.

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The legislation passed by the tribal council on June 19 has yet to be submitted to the Office of the President and Vice President for review by President Jonathan Nez.

Nez backed the original version of the bill and called for support from the Navajo people, many of whom responded with written comments to the council and signed an online petition, but delegates amended the bill.

What the amended bill offers

The legislation allocates $55 million from the $93.1 million to the 110 chapters for relief aid and to alleviate the affect of COVID-19 at the local level.

The bill directs that 50% of the appropriation be equally distributed among the chapters, and the remaining half be divided based on the number of registered voters in each chapter.

Other allocations in the bill:

  • $10 million for care packages of food, water and necessities.
  • $2 million for computer hardware and software to improve capabilities for tribal government employees to work from home.
  • $3.5 million for bathroom additions and upgrades at residences.
  • $7 million in burnout assistance for 156 homes.
  • $3 million to tribally managed hospitals and clinics.
  • $2.5 million to improve the financial system for Navajo Nation CARES Fund expenditures.
  • $10 million to the Navajo Nation Judicial Branch to address COVID-19.

Prior to the council amending the bill, it called for the immediate expenditure of $50.5 million to help reopen the tribal government by providing personal protective equipment to employees and covering costs to deep clean offices and buildings.

Speaker Seth Damon's bill, Legislation No. 0132-20, allocates $41 million from the CARES Act to get front-line responders protective gear and to take necessary steps to reopen tribal government.

That request was removed by the council and addressed in a separate legislation sponsored by Speaker Seth Damon.

Damon's bill – Legislation No. 0132-20 – allocates $41 million from the CARES Act amount to conduct such activities.

"The $41 million in immediate funding that the Navajo Nation Council voted to approve will give our front-line responders and essential workers the compensation they badly deserve. It also provides for personal protective equipment and safety assurance for thousands of our Navajo people that are looking to return to a safe workplace," Damon said.

More than a month has passed since the tribe received the $600 million from the CARES Act. Navajo leaders have yet to agree on its distribution. Nez struck down the council’s attempt to create a management plan for the amount earlier in the month.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, seen here June 12, 2020, during a food distribution event in Shiprock, said at a recent town hall meeting that the $600 million received in May was 60% of the total amount for the tribe, and the remaining 40% arrived on June 16 and June 18.

During an online town hall meeting this week, Nez said the tribe received from the CARES Act an additional $86 million on June 16 and another $27 million two days later.

He explained that the $600 million received in May was 60% of the total amount for the tribe and the remaining 40% arrived on June 16 and June 18.

He commented about waiting for the amended Legislation No. 0116-20 to arrive to his office.

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"Once we get that legislation, we'll know exactly the language of these amendments. But overall, it's a step in the right direction for the Navajo people in terms of spending $700 million dollars," Nez 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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