Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

October 10, 2020

Navajo Nation approves hardship assistance to Navajos with federal funds received four months ago

Dine' volunteers struggle to raise their own funds and deliver aid to fellow Dine'. 
Photos by volunteers Mercury Bitsuie, Bitahnii Wilson
Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief by Cassandra Begay.

Navajo government approves coronavirus hardship assistance with CARES Act funds.

Now, 564 Navajos have died from the virus.

Brenda Norrell
Censored News
Oct. 9, 2020

WINDOW ROCK, Arizona -- The Navajo Nation approved hardship assistance with federal funds received four months ago for emergency coronavirus relief. Navajos may receive up to $1,500 for adults and $500 for children based on need. The Navajo government received $714 million in CARES Act federal funds in two payments in May and June, but distribution to Navajos was delayed due to the allocation process of the Navajo Nation Council and Navajo President's Office.

With time running out to use the emergency virus relief funds, the Navajo government approved the release of funds on Friday. 

The Navajo President's Office approved two separate resolutions on Friday, adopting the hardship assistance expenditure plan to provide over $49 million in CARES Act funds for emergency financial assistance for Navajos by way of an application and approval process by the Office of the Controller. 

Now, 564 Navajos have died from the virus and more than 3,300 Navajos have the virus who have not recovered. On Friday, 42 new cases were reported and one more death. As coronavirus cases rise in the region, the Navajo Nation is now in another weekend lockdown.

On Friday, after the announcement of the release of funds, there were more than 700 responses on the Navajo President's Facebook page within nine hours. Many Navajos said there is widespread nepotism in the distribution of funds at the chapter level, leaving many with no hope of receiving funds allocated to the 110 chapters.

"I’m greatly disappointed in the President’s decision," responded one Navajo. "All Navajos are affected by COVID-19 on and off-reservation. Giving more money to the chapter houses to keep our councilman and their families fat and healthy."

Navajo workers on the frontline also responded and said they have not received hazard pay. Navajos also said the process of applying for business relief with the tribe has led nowhere. Still other Navajos responded that most will not receive a hardship assistance check due to the tribe's troublesome application and approval processes.

Since March 7, when the coronavirus spread from a gathering of the Nazarene Church on the Navajo Nation, Navajo volunteers have struggled to raise their own funds and meet the pleas for food and water, especially from isolated elderly.

There has been no uniform plan in place by the Navajo government for the delivery of food and water to Navajos sent home by hospitals and told to quarantine. There has been no system of home health care for the sick and dying throughout the Navajo Nation.

Many Navajo chapter houses, which normally provide tribal assistance, have been closed, especially in New Mexico, as the virus spread, increasing desperation.

While the approval of hardship aid was delayed to Navajos, the Navajo government made casinos a priority, immediately approving $24 million from the virus relief funds for tribal casinos. Casino workers were already being paid for the majority of the time during the pandemic, even when the casinos were closed.

About one-third of Navajos are forced to haul water, which is costly for both travel and the cost of water. About 300,000 Navajos live on the Navajo Nation in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

On Friday, the Navajo Nation reported the following number of positive coronavirus cases in each agency.

Hardship relief funds for enrolled Navajo Nation members, chapter relief funds, and broadband initiatives approved

Navajo President Jonathan Nez released a statement on Friday, stating that all Navajo Nation CARES Act funds have now been allocated.

President Nez said enrolled Navajo Nation members who were at least 18-years-old or older as of March 1, 2020 may receive up to $1,500 based on eligibility criteria determined by the Office of the Controller, and $500 per person for individuals who were under the age of 18-years-old as of March 1, 2020.

President Nez said the plan developed by the Navajo Nation Council also states that the eligibility criteria and the application process developed by the Office of the Controller will be subject to approval by the Council’s Health, Education, and Human Services Committee and Budget and Finance Committee. The Office of the Controller will ultimately be responsible for overseeing and monitoring the expenditure of the funds.

The Navajo President's Office said it also approved $90 million for the Division of Community Development, to administer the chapter distribution expenditure plan to provide additional COVID-19 relief at the local level using the chapter 50/50 formula. The approved resolution also includes over $20 million to provide additional support for the Office of the Controller to administer CARES Act funds and to provide oversight and compliance with guidelines. 

“The Nez-Lizer Administration previously proposed hardship relief funds through a different distribution mechanism that prioritized elders, students, and those most in need, but we understand that there is a great need for financial relief due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The $49 million expenditure plan development and approved by the Navajo Nation Council is not enough to help every enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, so these funds should be directed to elders and those most in need, but there will be an opportunity to increase funding for hardship relief for enrolled members if chapters do not use the $90 million allocation by the end of November. All Navajo Nation CARES Act funds have now been allocated and the Office of the Controller now has the financial support to ensure accountability, compliance, and distribution of a majority of the Nation’s CARES Act dollars,” President Nez said.

"In a letter to Speaker Seth Damon, President Nez and Vice President Lizer requested that the Council allow time for divisions, departments, and programs to focus on implementing CARES Act expenditure plans in coordination with the Office of the Controller, rather than spending long hours presenting multiple reports requested by the Council and its Standing Committees."

“Our recommendation to the Office of the Controller is to develop the criteria and application process so that elders and those living in remote areas without internet access are able to apply and that those in the most need of financial assistance be prioritized. This should not be a free-for-all distribution of funds. At the end of the day, all leaders along with the Office of the Controller will be held accountable for the use and expenditure of the CARES Act funds,” stated Vice President Lizer. 

"President Nez and Vice President Lizer also approved $15 million to provide more broadband initiatives to expand internet access on the Navajo Nation and $2 million for the Division of Community Development to help administer the chapter relief funds. 

"With the approval of the two resolutions, the Navajo Nation has now allocated all of the $714 million in CARES Act funds received from the federal government. President Nez continues to urge all members of the Navajo Nation to respond for the 2020 Census, noting that the Navajo Nation’s CARES Act funding allocation was determined by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and Congress based on the 2010 Census count," the Navajo President said.

Navajo Nation in lockdown as virus cases increase

President Nez said the Navajo Nation will have a 57-hour weekend lockdown beginning at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 9 until 5:00 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 12. A Stay-At-Home Order also remains in effect for the entire Navajo Nation.

On Friday, the state of New Mexico reported 488 new cases of COVID-19, the state of Arizona reported 683 new cases, and Utah reported 1,343.

"Today, the state of New Mexico reported its largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases with 488 new cases reported on Friday. The states of Arizona and Utah also continue to report massive increases in COVID-19 cases daily. The safest place for the Navajo people to be is at home on the Navajo Nation."

"We know frustration and fatigue caused by the pandemic is setting in, but we have to be strong and resilient like our ancestors. Now is not the time to let up and now is not the time to travel and expose yourselves to the virus. Please stay home, wash your hands, wear your masks, practice social distancing, and avoid large gatherings," said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

The World Central Kitchen, CORE Foundation, and Miss Navajo Nation Shaandiin Parrish distributed food and care packages to 440 families in the communities of Teec Nos Pos, Red Mesa, Aneth, and Mexican Water this week.

Dine' volunteers with K'E Relief Project

Photo by Dine' volunteer Mercury Bitsuie

Volunteers with Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief. Photo by Cassandra Begay.

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