Hardship assistance checks to older Navajos on the way, officials say

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation controller's office is working to release hardship assistance checks this week to eligible older tribal members after a setback earlier this month.

The rollout was delayed because the office was short-staffed after several employees tested positive for COVID-19, a Jan. 23 news release from the tribal president's office explained.

Last week, acting Controller Elizabeth Begay mentioned the staff shortage in a report to the Budget and Finance Committee.

"We got behind because we had COVID breakout here in my office," Begay said to the committee on Jan. 19.

She explained that the office was closed by the tribe's Health Command Operations Center for two days during the week of Jan. 10 because of COVID-19 infections among staff.

In addition to the office closure, employees are handling more than 16,000 requests from hardship assistance recipients to change mailing address, Begay explained.

Elizabeth Begay

Tribal leaders approved using funds left from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to help enrolled tribal members aged 60 and over who received hardship assistance checks in either 2020 or 2021.

The president's office news release stated these recipients "can expect" checks in the mail this week.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in the release that the rise in new COVID-19 cases on the tribal land has impacted employees within the three branches of government.

"We have employees who are required to quarantine, isolate and work from home due to infections and exposures," Nez said. "We understand that our elders need relief now and our employees are working hard, but we have to take safety precautions as well."

The controller's office is still looking at releasing hardship assistance checks from the American Rescue Plan Act in February.

Work on those payments will start after assistance for older Navajos is complete, Begay said.

It has been nearly eight months since the tribe received the first amount in ARPA funding from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. Support local journalism with a digital subscription to The Daily Times.