Nez vetoes bill to restore funding chapters used to address COVID pandemic
FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has rejected a bill that would have replenished emergency spending accounts for chapter governments as they continue to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill proposed allocating $1.69 million in supplemental funding to the 110 chapters. It also proposed the Division of Community Development receive $250,000 in supplemental funding to hire a consultant.
The consultant would thelp chapter officials and personnel develop guidelines and plans for further response to the pandemic, to safely reopen facilities and to address other major disasters.
Pearl Yellowman, the division's executive director, said although chapter houses are closed for social gatherings, officials and employees have been responding to the pandemic by distributing food and essential supplies to community members.
In addition, some chapter houses collect and dispose of solid waste or operate curbside service for meals distribute to older Navajos, Yellowman said.
Such activities have been financially covered by chapter governments during the pandemic, she explained.
Nez, along with Vice President Myron Lizer, cited concern about tapping into the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance – a type of rainy day fund the tribe uses for unplanned expenses – to cover such spending.
They added that their administration continues to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for reimbursement of funds the tribe has used during the pandemic, which would include spending by chapters.
"In this specific instance, we know our chapters expended funds for their relief effort for their community members and with the U.S. presidential declaration we are pressing for reimbursement," they wrote.
They also expressed concern that some chapters only used emergency funds in response to winter weather.
"Over the past year there has been no weather-related emergency declared by the nation or for a chapter region. The only emergency situation we have faced recently is the health concerns for our citizens," they wrote.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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