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Navajo Nation Council's passage of CARES Act spending receives line-item veto

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Volunteer Ray Livingston places a bag of potatoes in the back of a truck at the Tooh Haltsooí Chapter house property on April 24, 2020 in Sheep Springs. There have been similar distributions in communities on the Navajo Nation in response to the coronavirus.

GALLUP — Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez used the line-item veto on two bills that eyed distributing dollars from the federal coronavirus relief bill.

Last month, the Navajo Nation Council passed two bills that called for using $93.1 million and $42 million from the $600 million the tribe received on May 6 from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The CARES Act passed with bipartisan support in Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in late March.

More:Navajo Nation receives approximately $600 million in coronavirus relief funding

Community members receive food and other essential items from the Tooh Haltsooí Chapter on April 24, 2020 in Sheep Springs. There have been similar distributions in communities on the Navajo Nation in response to the coronavirus.

"We had a comprehensive plan proposed, but again, certain members of council put politics over the needs of our front-line warriors and the Navajo people. Instead, we have council members introducing multiple pieces of legislation that create a chaotic process and attempting to include pet projects and frivolous spending," Nez said in a press release from his office.

Speaker Seth Damon defended the council's approach and action for spending the coronavirus rescue package in a separate press release.

Members of the New Mexico Air National Guard prepare to load a vehicle with food and supplies during the distribution event by the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President on June 12, 2020 at the Northern Navajo Nation Fairgrounds in Shiprock. There have been similar distributions in communities on the Navajo Nation in response to the coronavirus.

"We, the council, will continue to push legislation that focuses on getting this money spent for the benefit of the Navajo people. With the support of our communities, we will move forward together," Damon said.

More:Navajo Nation Council gives the green light for CARES Act bill

Nez eliminated $72 million from the $93.1 million approved on June 19 by the council, which is identified as resolution CJN-47-20.

The amounts that were line-item vetoed in CJN-47-20 were:

  • $7 million to help individuals whose homes were destroyed by fire. This proposal would have provided $45,000 each to 156 residences.
  • $55 million to the 110 chapters for relief aid and to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 at the local level.
  • $10 million to the Navajo Nation Judicial Branch to address COVID-19.

The second bill passed by council on June 19 approved $42 million to cover special duty pay for front-line and essential workers, to purchase personal protective equipment for employees, to pay for deep cleaning government buildings, and to assist the Diné Hataalii Association Inc., a non-profit organization that focuses on traditional healing practices and advocates for cultural teachings and practices.

Food and supplies donated to the Navajo Nation were distributed by the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President on June 12, 2020 at the Northern Navajo Nation Fairgrounds in Shiprock. There have been similar distributions in communities on the Navajo Nation in response to the coronavirus.

That resolution is identified as CJN-46-20.

Nez rejected the $1 million earmarked for the Diné Hataalii Association, stating the allocation did not comply with guidelines from the U.S. Department of the Treasury for the CARES Act.

"Non-government entities may submit plans to the branch chiefs for consideration and each will be evaluated," Nez wrote in his veto message.

Damon mentioned in the press release from his office that the expenditure plan from the Diné Hataalii Association was "more comprehensive than anything submitted" by the president's office to the council as of July 5.

The amounts approved in CJN-46-20 were:

  • $21 million for special duty pay for front-line workers and other essential employees whose duties are dedicated to responding to the public health emergency.
  • $10 million to provide personal protective equipment for front-line workers and other essential employees.
  • $10 million to cover costs to sanitize government offices and buildings.

Overall, the tribe has received approximately $713 million under the CARES Act in distributions from the federal Treasury Department.

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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