Navajo Nation Council passes bill to use $1B in ARPA funds on infrastructure projects
FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Council passed a bill to use its remaining $1.07 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds on infrastructure projects that will develop housing and water, electricity and broadband internet services.
The council voted 20-2 in favor of the measure on June 30 at a special session.
"Today was a historic day for the Navajo Nation," tribal President Jonathan Nez said in remarks hours after the council's action.
Although the council backed the legislation, it still needs to go to Nez for his consideration.
Nez spoke in a radio address on June 30 about how spending the ARPA funds will continue the tribe's response to the coronavirus pandemic and by building these necessities, it sets a foundation for further development on the tribal land.
He noted that the bill provides $120 million to the tribe's ARPA hardship assistance program, which faces a shortfall in funding because of the number of Navajos who are enrolling in the tribe for the first time and applying for help.
According to the president's office, the bill approved by the council includes:
- $215 million for water line and wastewater projects
- $96.4 million for home electricity connections
- $120 million for broadband internet
- $130 million for housing
- $150 million for bathroom additions
- $210 million for local chapter priorities
- $35 million for E911 and public safety
- $19.2 million for health care
- $5 million for cybersecurity
- $15.5 million for housing in the former Bennett Freeze area
Last year, the tribe receive two allocations under the ARPA. The first allocation was approximately $1.86 billion and the second was estimated at $217.91 million.
State, local and tribal governments that received allocations have until the end of 2024 to decide how to use the money and the end of 2026 to spend it.
Any amounts not used or obligated goes back to the federal government.
In January, Nez sided with the council and signed a bill to use $557 million in ARPA funding to provide hardship assistance payments to eligible, enrolled tribal members.
Navajo leaders also approved last year to use $389 million to restore funding to projects supported by the CARES Act, which were defunded because of deadlines for spending set by the federal government.
Passage of the bill comes after officials wrangled for months over how to use the remaining funds.
The proposal that cleared the council was sponsored by Delegate Mark Freeland.
"This legislation was sponsored to directly address the living conditions of our Navajo peopleduring this COVID-19 pandemic," Freeland said in a statement. "Our relatives residing in rural areas need basic infrastructure access to drinking water, electricity and bathroom additions."
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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