Navajo Nation Council approves additional hardship assistance payments

Measure passes easily, but awaits signature of President Jonathan Nez

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Council has approved an emergency bill to help eligible tribal members with additional hardship assistance payments.

The council also raised the payment amounts from $600 for each recipient to $2,000 for each adult and $600 for each child. Payments would go to those who already received checks under the Navajo Nation CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Program.

The council voted 18-2 in favor of the measure on Dec. 29. Although the council approved the legislation, it still needs to go to tribal President Jonathan Nez for his consideration.

Jared Touchin, spokesman for the President's Office, said the office had not received the council resolution as of Dec. 30.

Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, the bill's sponsor, said during the special session, "This will not require an additional application process, so there will not be a delay when allocating these dollars. And those individuals who have never applied will still have the opportunity to apply and to go through the process."

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty sponsored the emergency bill the council passed on Dec. 29 for more hardship assistance payments to help eligible tribal members.

Delegate Jamie Henio, who opposed the bill with Delegate Raymond Smith, voiced worry over money being taken from much-needed infrastructure projects to cover the increase.

"I'm wondering which project would be Xed out," Henio said. "Would it be the Tóhajiilee-Albuquerque waterline project? Would it be the western wildlife project? Would it be the Many Mules project? Would it be all these other projects? … That's the concern I have."

Majority of delegates spoke in support of the proposal because it would provide some financial relief to tribal members struggling to pay bills, and cover the costs of rent, food and fuel.

The hardship assistance would be funded by the $2 billion the tribal government received from the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal coronavirus relief package to provide economic help from the pandemic.

The Navajo Nation Council Chamber is pictured in 2016 in Window Rock, Ariz. During a special session on Dec. 29, delegates approved additional hardship assistance payments to eligible tribal members.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury used a three-part formula, which included tribal population, to distribute the $20 billion allocated to tribes under the act.

The tribe received its amount in May and in August. The amount was placed in the Navajo Nation Fiscal Recovery Fund and has been proposed for use on infrastructure projects on tribal land and on hardship assistance payments.

Delegate Nathaniel Brown made the motion to amend the legislation to increase the amount allocated for hardship assistance from $207 million to $557 million and for higher payment amounts.

Brown reminded delegates that the Controller's Office reported the tribe has approximately $14 million from another coronavirus relief package that may have to be returned to the federal government because it was not used by Dec. 30.

He said he did not want to see the same thing happen with ARPA funding.

"Yes, we do want our projects to be funded. However, this way our people can help us spend. This is their money," Brown said.

In order to adjust the amount allocated for hardship assistance, the council had to waive provisions outlined in a previous council resolution and a resolution by the Budget and Finance Committee.

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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