Navajo Nation leaders reallocate CARES Act funding to help older adults
FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez approved the reallocation of remaining CARES Act funding to help tribal members aged 60 and over and previously received help from the tribe's hardship assistance program.
Nez signed the tribal council resolution on Dec. 30, a day after council delegates voted 20-1 in favor of the emergency bill during a special session.
"They need it," Delegate Eugene Tso, the bill's sponsor, said in remarks to the council.
Tso introduced the bill because the U.S. Department of the Treasury placed a Dec. 31 deadline for state, local and tribal governments to obligate CARES Act funds. Otherwise, unspent funds go back to the federal government later this year.
The president's office's news release states that approximately $16 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding will provide about $300 per eligible adult 60 years of age or older.
"Elders will not need to reapply for the hardship funds," the release states. "The Office of the Controller is beginning the payment process and elders can anticipate receiving the check payment in the next week or two."
The council resolution outlines the eligibility criteria as:
- Older adults who applied to the Controller's Office for the Navajo Nation CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Program by Nov. 30, 2020 or by Sept. 30, 2021.
- Older adults born on or before Dec. 31, 1961 and who have their birth certificate or Certificate of Indian Blood on file with the Controller's Office.
- Older adults who were approved for the hardship assistance program and received a check from the Controller's Office.
"We love and cherish our elders very much," Nez said in the release. "This pandemic has created many challenges for everyone, especially our elder parents and grandparents."
At the special session, acting Controller Elizabeth Begay explained that her office worked "very hard" to spend the CARES Act funding provided to the hardship assistance program.
Still, an estimated $14 million remains unspent, she said.
While this amount varies from the $16 million in the bill, Begay said her office is working to cancel outstanding hardship assistance checks and return the money to the program's balance.
"I want to clarify our goal is to fully expend the funds so that no money goes back to the feds," Begay said.
She added that her concern is that her staff will not have enough time to issue checks by Dec. 31 to the 48,227 older Navajos who qualify for assistance.
But in Nez's letter on Dec. 30 to Speaker Seth Damon, he wrote that the Controller's Office, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Navajo Nation Department of Justice "arrived" at a process to address directives in the council resolution.
"The criteria to incur CARES fund expenses by the deadline is our primary consideration and the resolution action will ensure the nation will spend the entire allocation of CARES fund," Nez wrote. "The actual issuance of checks will take some time to process but rest assured all elders who are eligible will receive assistance."
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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