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Navajo Nation president approves financial assistance for enrolled members amid COVID-19

Nearly $50 million targeted for 'those most in need'

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Nolson Scott helps place a billboard that share the message for precautionary measures against COVID-19 on March 29, 2020, on N.M. Highway 264 in Tsé Bonito.
  • The funding will come from the federal coronavirus relief bill.
  • The money will be distributed to chapters by the Division of Community Development.
  • The Office of the Controller will manage the initiative and develop the application process.

FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has signed off on using approximately $49.9 million to provide financial relief to enrolled tribal members affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Oct. 9, Nez, along with Vice President Myron Lizer, approved using a portion of the federal coronavirus relief bill to help tribal members with expenses or financial burdens incurred due to the pandemic.

But they stressed to Speaker Seth Damon that the assistance should go to "those most in need."

"The Nez-Lizer administration previously proposed hardship relief funds through a different distribution mechanism that prioritized elders, students and those most in need, but we understand that there is a great need for financial relief due to the COVID-19 pandemic," Nez said in the press release from his office that announced the decision.

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In a separate resolution, Nez and Lizer approved using $90 million for the 110 chapters to provide additional relief. The amount is also from the federal coronavirus relief bill and would be distributed to chapters by the Division of Community Development.

The leaders noted there is an opportunity to add more funding to the hardship assistance fund if chapters do not use the $90 million by the end of November.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, left, and Vice President Myron Lizer are pictured in a Nov. 29, 2018, file photo. The leaders approved on Oct. 9 using a portion of federal coronavirus relief bill to fund a financial assistance program for enrolled tribal members.

The Oct. 9 action means the tribe has allocated the entire $714 million received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

The Office of the Controller will manage the initiative and develop the application process. Under the program, enrolled members who 18 or older as of March 1 are eligible to receive up to $1,500 while those who were younger than 18 as of March 1 are eligible for up to $500.

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Officials have said they will announce when the application is available and how to apply.

The Navajo Nation Council passed the bill that proposed the financial assistance on Sept. 24.

Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton sponsored the legislation and thanked the president for signing it into law.

The Navajo Nation government has been placing billboards that advertise the closures of its park and recreation sites and about precautionary steps for COVID-19. One such billboard was situated on March 29 alongside N.M. Highway 264 in Tsé Bonito.

"Leadership has taken a step in the right direction helping the Diné people across the globe," Charles-Newton said on Oct. 9 in a statement to The Daily Times.

"Stories were shared by many Diné people who were affected by COVID-19. Working together, putting politics aside and putting the people first is always good for the people," she said.

She added that the Diné will continue to fight COVID-19, and the financial assistance will help pay past-due rent and allow people to buy food, firewood, hand sanitizer, face masks and other items needed for winter.

In the press release, Nez expressed concern that not every member will receive assistance due to the size of the tribe.

The Office of Vital Records and Identification reported to the council that there were 327,726 enrolled members as of August.

"While we do not have enough funds to fully help all Navajos with emergency financial assistance we trust those in true financial hardship, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will get the help they need," Nez and Lizer wrote in the letter to Speaker Damon.

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They suggested those who have been hospitalized due to COVID-19, those who cannot work because of isolation or quarantine, those who lost loved ones and those who ended employment to care for their parents should receive help.

The president included elderly Navajos among those who need assistance in his comments in the press release.

"Perhaps we can find a way to make this distribution work for those who are truly in need," the leaders' letter states.

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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