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Navajo Nation begins issuing checks under coronavirus hardship assistance program

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Navajo Nation CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Program was approved in fall 2020 by tribal leaders to help enrolled members address financial troubles incurred due to the coronavirus pandemic.

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Office of the Controller has started to release checks issued under the tribe's CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Program.

The controller's office, which has been overseeing the program, announced on Jan. 18 that 200,885 individual checks were approved, totaling $226.01 million.

Checks "will be mailed in batches of 20,000 to 25,000 starting on Jan. 18. Mailing in batches is due to capacity constraints and recommendations made by health experts for health and safety precautions," the release states.

Recipients are asked to be patient and allow adequate time for the U.S. Postal Service to process and deliver mail, the release states.

It adds that mailing addresses on the Navajo Nation could have a longer mailing time as opposed to those sent to metropolitan areas such as Albuquerque or Phoenix.

The closure of parks operated by the Navajo Nation have placed financial strain on vendors who sell items at the locations. The tribe's CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Program was approved to help enrolled members address financial troubles incurred due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"It is advised to wait three to four weeks before calling the support center to check on the status of your payment," the release states.

The hardship assistance program was funded by a portion of the $714.18 million the tribe received from the federal coronavirus relief bill.

Navajo officials approved the program in the fall with the intent to help enrolled members address financial troubles incurred due to the pandemic.

When the program was proposed, officials estimated payments of $1,500 for adults and $500 for minors.

According to the controller's office, the final amount allocated to the program has the maximum payment for adults at $1,350 and the maximum payment of $450 for minors.

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"Each applicant will receive 90% of their requested amount based on their demonstrated need on their submitted application," the release states.

According to the release, there are approximately 45,000 applications that have issues and the controller's office is continuing to address those.

The office also reminds recipients that payment will not be made until the completed application is approved.

"For example, if there is an issue with one individual on an application that contains four applicants, payment will not be made until all four applicants are approved," the release states.

Applicants had the choice to have checks mailed or pick them up in person. For those who selected pick up service, that option remains under evaluation by the controller's office and the Navajo Department of Health because of public health emergency orders.

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A date for such service "has not been determined yet" and it is expected that it will be several weeks before a safe alternative is developed, the release states.

Contact the support center at 833-282-7248 to the switch payment option from in-person to mail.

"We ask our people to remain patient as the checks are mailed and delivered in the coming days. This is the very first time that the Navajo Nation has taken on this type of financial disbursement for a majority of enrolled members," tribal President Jonathan Nez said in a Jan. 19 press release from his office.

Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer remind tribal members to use the money to purchase essential items and to shop local due to reduce the spread of the virus.

"We continue to encourage our Navajo people to buy Navajo, buy local. Staying local is much safer than traveling longer distances to areas where the virus is more prevalent," Lizer said.

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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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