Bill proposes second phase of Navajo Nation hardship assistance program

Focus of measure will be on those who didn't receive help in first round

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Recipients of checks issued under the Navajo Nation CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Program received instructions for cashing payments.

FARMINGTON — A group of Navajo Nation Council delegates have introduced legislation this week that proposes the creation of a second phase of the tribe's hardship assistance program, with the focus on helping those who did not receive payment the first time.

Last fall, tribal leaders created the Navajo Nation CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Program to provide financial relief to enrolled members because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The program has been funded by amounts the tribe received under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

In January, the tribe's Office of the Controller started issuing checks to qualified applicants. The bill states the program has distributed $318.23 million to help approximately 308,000 tribal members who met the application deadline and eligibility criteria.

Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton is among five delegates sponsoring the bill. She explained that there are approximately 9,000 names on a waiting list maintained by the controller's office.

Applicants can end up on the waiting list because of errors on applications, technical issues when applying online or submitting an application too late, Charles-Newton explained.

The controller's office and the Office of Vital Records and Identification estimated there are 92,000 enrolled members who did not apply for the assistance by the Nov. 30, 2020, deadline, the bill states.

As of June 1, the program had been funded at $341.7 million and had a balance of $23.46 million. That amount could increase after "outstanding reallocations are received and earned investment income is added," the bill states.

While the bill states its intent is to help those who did not receive help initially, it also proposes a 60-day application period for eligible tribal members who also did not receive assistance.

However, it does not state whether applicants on the controller's office waiting list would have to reapply or automatically would qualify for funding.

"I would like to see the people who were on the wait list be funded first because there were mistakes that were made," Charles-Newton said.

A part of the legislative process, delegates can amend bills when they are under consideration by a standing committee or during a council session.

The bill will be eligible for consideration starting June 15. It was assigned to the Health, Education and Human Services Committee, the Budget and Finance Committee, the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee and the Navajo Nation Council, where final authority rests.

If the council passes the bill, it will go to tribal President Jonathan Nez for his review and consideration.

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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