Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Council approves plan to pay remaining hardship money

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The bill would provide funds to those eligible Navajo tribal members who did not receive funding under the first hardship assistance payments. In a special session June 25, the Navajo Nation Council unanimously approved a bill to establish a Phase II CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Expenditure Plan.

In August 2020, the Navajo Nation Council decided to provide financial assistance to Navajo individuals and families facing financial hardship because of the coronavirus pandemic and public health orders and adopted the Navajo Nation CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Expenditure Plan.

Funding for the second phase will come out of the remaining $41.97 million in the Hardship Fund from the Navajo allocation from the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, plus any investment income.

Of the $361.5 million that ended up in the hardship pot, which included reversions from unfinished CARES Act projects and services, $319.5 million was expended for Hardship payments to 308,000 Navajos.

Acting Controller Elizabeth Begay confirmed that her office has now been able to retrieve the hardship applicant information from Baker Tilly, the accounting firm that former Controller Pearline Kirk had contracted to manage the Hardship Assistance portal.

With an amendment added by Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton, the bill prioritizes payments to 1,865 Navajos who applied by the Nov. 30, 2020, hardship application deadline but didn’t receive checks because certain documentation, such as CIB, was not submitted, or personal information such as date of birth or addresses were incorrect or did not match up with existing records.

“The legislation is opening up the hardship to everyone who didn’t apply,” Charles-Newton said. “My amendment is saying that the 1,865 people who applied before the deadline but did not get their checks would be processed first.

Begay said a total of $2.45 million will be needed to process the checks to the 1,865 applicants out of the remaining $41.97 million and those payments need to be made by the deadline of July 31, assuming any outstanding application issues are resolved.

“They did everything they were supposed to do but they ran into problems that were outside of their control,” she said. “It’s just a matter of being fair.”

For those individuals, the payments of $1,350 for adults and $450 for children will be consistent with what prior applicants received.

After the payments to the 1,865 are dispersed, Begay said the remaining 90,135 out of the 399,494 enrolled Navajos who didn’t apply for hardship assistance or missed the deadline would be able to apply for payments out of the balance of $39.52 million as part of Phase II.

However, if all 90,135 apply they would only receive an estimated $438 per person, she said.

The bill states that the controller’s office will “establish, publish, and implement a 60-day application period for eligible Navajos who have not previously received Hardship Assistance funds….”

“Our office has the authority to establish the start date and end date of the 60-day application period for Phase II,” Begay said.

As it stands, Begay said they plan to open the application period on Aug. 1 and it will last through Sept. 30.

However, that would also have to be legislated by Council.

Begay suggested prior that if the remaining funds ($39.52 million) in Hardship Assistance fund run out, Council can probably access American Rescue Plan Act funding to accommodate all of Navajos who did not receive the first round of Hardship Assistance at a larger amount than $438 per person.

Separately, Begay has estimated it would take another $600 million to accommodate 399,494 enrolled Navajos with a new round of ARPA Hardship Assistance at $2,000 per adult and $1,000 per child, which would represent about a third of the $1.9 billion of ARPA funds allocated to the Navajo Nation.

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