Nez reduces tribal council's spending of federal coronavirus relief money
GALLUP — Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has partially vetoed the $650.9 million spending package the Navajo Nation Council approved for spending funds provided in the federal coronavirus relief bill.
Lawmakers have been wrestling with how to spend the $714 million the tribe received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act before the Dec. 30 deadline.
Last month, the council approved using $650.9 million to fund various relief projects to address the coronavirus pandemic on the Navajo Nation.
"Our vision for the CARES Act funds is to provide direct services to as many of our Navajo people who need help with housing, education, water, electricity, food, internet access for school, telehealth and telework and basic necessities," Nez wrote in his letter on Aug. 16 to Speaker Seth Damon.
The goal is to have all projects delivering direct services completed by the December deadline and each project was reviewed and many met the criteria for direct help, Nez wrote.
Approved funds for water, power and other projects
The $475 million approved by Nez included $130 million to the Navajo Department of Water Resources for water projects, $44.2 million to fund power line projects and $53.2 million to fund broadband and telecommunication projects.
Also approved was $24.6 million in emergency assistance to the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, which would help return employees to administrative leave with pay.
Nez's letter noted that he and others spent the past 10 days reviewing each request in the resolution – identified as CJY-67-20.
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"In thoroughly reviewing the appropriation for needs and services in CJY-67-20, we found certain projects could not be completed in the next 20 weeks, were not ready to begin or could be shared with others to meet more of the nation's need," Nez wrote.
He added that his administration is open to working collectively and swiftly with the council to adjust some projects. Overall, he removed $175.3 million from the resolution.
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A breakdown in the vetoed amount is:
- For broadband and telecommunications projects, $15 million was removed to pay non-tribal owned telecommunications carriers.
- For solid waste projects, $23.9 million for such projects across the reservation. The letter notes that the Navajo Environmental Protection Agency is the regulatory agency but "not in the best position to carry out" such projects. The letter notes funding is best delivered to the Navajo Division of Community Development working with the chapters or with regional sanitation facilities.
- $48.8 million in payroll support for tribal employees.
- For housing projects, $33.4 million for housing and housing improvement projects. The proposal would have allocated $1.3 million to each of the 24 delegates to use for constituents. Nez noted that $1 million is not enough funding in some chapters to complete one house and there is doubt about completing housing projects by Dec. 30.
- $20 million to the tribe's Office of the Controller to address the additional administration and compliance of CARES Act funds.
- $34.1 million was eliminated to Native Renewables to build solar power units for 1,500 homes across the Navajo Nation.
'Triple impact' for communities
Wahleah Johns, executive director for Native Renewables, learned about the line-item veto on Sunday evening.
The proposal provided a "triple impact" for communities by supplying homes with electric, employment opportunities and job training and cost savings for families, she said.
"I think our proposal was one of the best investment of CARES dollars for emergency relief for these families that don't have access to electricity," Johns said.
While the veto is a setback for the Flagstaff, Arizona-based non-profit organization, Johns said they will revise the proposal and resubmit for the remaining CARES Act dollars.
"We know there's a need and we're going to keep pushing along," she said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at email@example.com.
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