Navajo Council allocates $650M in CARES relief aid, 8.1.20

The Navajo Nation Council voted 20 in favor and zero opposed on the allocation of $650 million from the Navajo Nation CARES or Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds at about 9:22 p.m. July 31, 2020, during a two-day special session held via a teleconference that was live-streamed on the Navajo Nation Council’s Facebook page, YouTube site, and Vimeo station.

The Council’s detailed project and budget allocation are in Legislation 0144-20, which Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty sponsored and Speaker Seth Damon co-sponsored, went before the Council’s standing committees – Budget & Finance, Health, Education & Human Services, Law & Order, Resources & Development, and the Naabik’iyati – before reaching the Council for final action.

The Navajo Nation CARES Spending Plan or Legislation 0144-20 now goes before Navajo Nation Jonathan Nez, who has ten days to act on 0144-20. Nez can quickly sign off on the Navajo Nation’s $650 million CARES relief aid or he can veto or use the presidential budget line-item veto. It’s become a bad habit of Nez to use the presidential budget line-item veto, which included line-item vetoing language in the Council’s first CARES legislation that specifically referred to U.S. Treasury guidelines for spending CARES funds.

As the Council began working on a spending plan for the Navajo Nation CARES funds, the Council called on Navajo Nation Controller Pearline Kirk to present the do’s and don’t’s for spending the emergency federal COVID-19 dollars according to the Treasury’s written policies and procedures. Kirk emphasized to the Council that the Navajo Nation’s more than $714 million in CARES funds will be audited by the U.S. Office of the Inspector General because the Navajo Nation received the larges portion of CARES dollars allocated to Indian Country.

The Navajo Nation has received a total of $714,189,631 in CARES funds since April.

Kirk has been reminding the Council that if the Treasury and Inspector General find that funds were not spent according to Treasury guideline, the Navajo Nation will have to pay back those funds to the Treasury.

During the 28 hours that the Council debated and voted on the allocated of funds, funds amount, and proposals for projects/services, the Council asked Kirk to review or vet the proposals to ensure the Navajo Nation would not be liable for repaying CARES dollars.

After Kirk brought to the attention of the Council that a quick review of a $9 million proposal for the Navajo Nation Shopping Center Enterprise had a high rick for an audit due to unallowable costs involving the use of emergency COVID-19 relief money for $1.3 million in start up costs for a grocery store in the Window Rock, Arizona, where there are already two grocery stores. Kirk added that the start up costs are not allowed because it’s funding a private for-profit business. After several other questionable costs, such as $24,000 for meeting stipends for the Navajo Nation Shopping Center Board of Directors, and $6,000 for the Board of Directors travel, were identified in the $9 million request for Navajo Nation Shopping Centers by the Council, the Council withdrew its support for the $9 million request.

The $9 million request for the Navajo Nation Shopping Centers, which came before the Council on July 31, was made by the Nez and Vice President Lizer Division of Economic Development Executive Director JT Willie.

According to a summary sheet of the Navajo Nation CARES funds received by the Nation since April, the Navajo Nation Received a Total of $714 million in CARES funds. The Council has Allocated a Total of $713 million, which includes the $650 million allocated by the Council on July 31. The Navajo Nation has a Balance of 1,150,000 that is unallocated.

I’m also re-posting The List of Nine Amendments debated on, voted on, and added by the Council to 0144-20:

Nez presented his proposed $652 Navajo Nation CARES spending plan to the Council July 28. Health, Education and Human Services Committee Vice Chairman Carl Slater said to Nez that it was important to note that Nez’s expenditure plan and budget was the first written detailed plan and budget presented to the Council since it requested one from Nez and Lizer when the Council and Judicial Branch began working on a Navajo Nation CARES expenditure plan on March 27.

Nez informed the Council that the Nez-Lizer plan to spend $652 million in CARES funds was better than the Council’s because he worked with his experts, the Navajo people, and Judicial Branch. He noted that his $650 million spending package included $10 million for the Judicial Branch.

But when Judicial Branch Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne went before the Council after Nez introduced her, Jayne made it very clear that the Judicial Branch is one of the Navajo Nation’s three branches, which are separate but equal, and the Judicial Branch is presenting its own budget – separate from the Executive Branch. If the Council has approved the Nez-Lizer $652 CARES expenditure plan, Nez and Lizer would oversee the Judicial Branch’s budget.

In a July 28 press release, Nez stated, “The Navajo people are demanding that our Nation’s leaders work together to put the CARES Act funds to use for the people and our communities – that is what this comprehensive funding proposal seeks to accomplish. The funding requests are similar to those that were included in a previous legislation that was supported by the Navajo people. Unfortunately, when that legislation went before the Council, there were many amendments passed that removed critical funding. Now it’s time to move forward in unity and fund these critical needs.” Nez and Lizer are not only misleading the Navajo people with lies, but they are dividing the Navajo people by promoting lies about the Legislative Branch and Judicial Branch in an obvious effort to use the Navajo people to pressure the Council and Judicial Branch to support the Nez-Lizer spending plan.

And then Nez and Lizer issue a July 31 press release about their proposed $652 million CARES spending plan that now highlights their allocation of CARES money for “education virtual learning to help protect students and teachers from COVID-19 exposure.” I remember when Nez and Lizer presented their State of the Navajo Nation address to the Council July 20 and they informed the Council that they stood firm on their efforts to move forward with the reopening of schools, which they are working on with the Department of Dine’ Education. But they did not provide any sort of written Navajo Nation reopening plans, timelines, and budgets for schools and universities.

The Navajo Nation DODE, which is part of the Navajo Nation executive branch and under Nez and Lizer, oversees Headstart, federally funded schools, the Dine’ College and Navajo Technical University. There are also several public schools on the Navajo Nation, which the states of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah administer.

Nez and Lizer reported that DODE sent out surveys to parents regarding the reopening of the Navajo Nation educational system. “DODE created a task force that developed the ‘Roadmap to Reopening Schools.’ This document serves as a guidance to school leadership in addition to the three states respective State School Reopening Plans. These resources are being shared with the school leadership along with CDC Guidelines for ReOpening Schools. The documents can be found for reference on the DODE website,” they reported in their state of nation address.

They cautioned, “Any plan for reopening schools must be implemented with the health and safety of all students, teachers, administrators, and other employees as the top priority. We cannot rush the reopening of schools, whether it is done online or in person, and we absolutely cannot play politics with the health and well-being of our youth at stake.”

Nez and Lizer pointed to Navajo Health Command Operations Center data and graphs that showed that the Nation’s positive COVID-19 cases peaked in early May and then began declining.

But according to the Navajo Nation Epidemiology Team, which consists of medical experts, who have medical degrees and knowledge, there was strong evidence for several weeks and not a couple of weeks that the number of positive COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation are declining.

The Epidemiology Team, which all consists of young Navajo medical professionals, presented their findings to the Health, Education and Human Services Committee, which has repeatedly requested such data from the Navajo Nation Division of Health, which is headed by Jill Jim, who holds an administrative doctorate degree and not a medical doctor’s degree.

The epi-team warned the Health, Education and Human Services against reopening and pointed to the alarming surge in positive COVID-19 cases and deaths happening in states surrounding the Navajo Nation after those states partially reopened small businesses after those states showed they had flattened the curve.

Nez announced that the reopening of businesses on the Navajo Nation is being headed by Lizer, who is a businessman. but Lizer, like DODE, did not produce a written plan, budget, and timelines.

The justification by Nez and Lizer to reopen the Navajo Nation was based on their claim that they, first responders, Christian prayers, and executive public health orders for wearing masks, social distancing, daily curfews, and weekend lock downs had flattened the curve or reduced the number of positive cases.

The following OFFICE OF THE SPEAKER PRESS RELEASE presents a detailed breakdown of Legislation 0144-20, the Navajo Nation $650M CARES fund expenditure plan.

OFFICE OF THE SPEAKER PRESS RELEASE – Navajo Nation Council approves $650 million in immediate expenditures for coronavirus pandemic mitigation and relief

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (8.1.20) Members of the 24th Navajo Nation Council approved Friday, Jul. 31, a coronavirus (COVID-19) relief bill totaling $650,980,101 in Navajo Nation CARES Funding for more than $75 million in immediate support for the Navajo Nation Department of Health, $130 million for water projects, $44 million for power line projects, $68 million for broadband internet projects and a remaining $330 million for expenditures that mitigate the effects of the ongoing pandemic on the Navajo Nation.

“On behalf of the 24th Navajo Nation Council, I am honored to present this historic $650 million expenditure package that provides for the most comprehensive immediate relief our Navajo People have ever received,” said Navajo Nation Council Speaker Seth Damon (Baahaali, Chilchiltah, Manuelito, Red Rock, Rock Springs, Tsayatoh). “Months of constant effort by council delegates, division directors, program managers, local Chapter leaders and our expert partners has gone into this legislation. This was a collective effort that brought to the surface all the underlying, systemic challenges, like lack of running water and access to electricity, that are common throughout the Navajo Nation. This legislation begins to directly address those obstacles we face, as Navajo People, in protecting the health of our own homes and communities.”

“Our hope, as Navajo leaders, is for the healing of our relatives, our friends, and our People,” said Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty (Cove, Toadlena/Two Grey Hills, Red Valley Tsé’áłnáozt’i’í, Sheepsprings, Beclabito, Gádii’ahí/Tó Ko’í), sponsor of Legislation No. 0144-20. “This comprehensive package includes the most essential needs facing the Navajo People that have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. These past months have been some of the hardest we have faced as a Nation. But just like our ancestors, we will get through this moment together, and we will look back and see the strength it took to move forward.”

Legislation No. 0144-20 was unanimously approved Jul. 31 by the 24th Navajo Nation Council by a vote of 20 in favor and 0 opposed. After earlier amendments and approvals of the Health, Education, and Human Services Committee (HEHSC), the Resources and Development Committee (RDC), the Budget and Finance Committee (BFC) and the Naabik’íyáti’ Committee, Legislation No. 0144-20 gained nine amendments over a two-day special session of the Navajo Nation Council held Jul. 30-31.

Some of the approved amendments to Legislation No. 0144-20 include $9,633,863 to support the Judicial Branch of the Navajo Nation, $75,836,016 to support the Navajo Nation Department of Health, $60,000,000 to support Navajo businesses and artisans through the Navajo Nation Division of Economic Development, $69,295,910 to support Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) and Native Renewables residential solar electricity system installations and $33,423,914 to support housing projects in each Navajo Nation chapter.

“With each successive amendment and with the discussions brought forward by President Nez and Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne, this legislation has become a stronger representation of the true needs of the Navajo People,” said Council Delegate Carl Roessel Slater (Round Rock, Tséch’izhí, Rock Point, Lukachugai, Tsaile-Wheatfields), co-sponsor of Legislation No. 0144-20. “With nearly three months of work sessions, Naabik’íyáti’ Committee meetings, and hundreds of public comments and input, this plan puts forward a strong position in providing immediate economic relief and strong public health protections for our Nation.”

The approved expenditures for water projects total $130,005,095. These include:

Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources: $87,485,860;
NTUA Wastewater Projects: $18,635,000;
Whitehorse Lake–Sand Springs Water Supply Pipeline: $937,712;
NTUA Cistern Systems: $20,946,523;
To’hajiilee-Albuquerque Water Supply Line: $2,000,000.
The approved expenditures for power line projects total $44,220,832. These include:

NTUA Power Line Projects: $13,897,562;
NTUA Electrical Grid Capacity Development Projects: $24,747,269;
Jemez Mountain Electric Cooperative Projects: $163,723;
Continental Divide Electric Cooperative Projects: $1,062,278;
Ramah-Pine Hill Campus Electric Projects: $3,500,000;
Sand Springs South Electric Project: $850,000.
The approved expenditures for broadband telecommunications projects total $68,224,989. These include:

NTUA Wireless Projects: $32,848,207;
Navajo Nation Department of Information Technology Projects: $3,400,000;
Navajo Technical University (NTU) Broadband Development Team: $470,000;
NTU Campus Support Projects: $7,634,533;
Native Broadcast Enterprise Support: $393,670;
Diné College Campus Support: $8,478,579;
Non-tribal owned telecommunication carriers support: $15,000,000.
Other approved expenditures include:

Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency Solid Waste Support Funding: $23,973,000;
Navajo Nation Payroll Reimbursement and Extended Support Funding: $90,928,047;
Hardships Assistance: $1,000;
Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise Expenditure Plan: $24,600,000;
Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation: $828,637;
Navajo Nation Office of the Controller Quality Assurance Funding: $20,008,798.
All expenditures authorized by the Navajo Nation Council through Legislation No. 0144-20 total $650,980,101.

The project expenditures were authorized from the Navajo Nation CARES Fund, which is comprised of $714,189,631 that was received by the Navajo Nation from the federal CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund. The Navajo Nation CARES Fund was previously established through Resolution No. CMY-44-20, as line-item vetoed by the Navajo Nation President.

The Navajo Nation Council authorized prior expenditures totaling $62,059,530 through Resolution Nos. CJN-46-20 and CJN-47-20, as line-item vetoed by the Navajo Nation President. Those expenditures are comprised of:

$21 million for hazard/special duty pay for front-line responders and essential personnel;
$10 million for personal protective equipment (PPE);
$10 million for disinfection of public offices;
$10 million for care packages of food, water and basic necessities;
$2 million to enable tele-work capability for government employees;
$3.5 million for bathroom additions and upgrades;
$3 million in assistance for Public Law 93-638 healthcare facilities on the Navajo Nation;
$2,559,530.10 to improve procurement processing of Navajo Nation CARES Fund expenditures.
In total, the Navajo Nation Council has authorized $713,039,631 in Navajo Nation CARES Fund expenditures. An unallocated amount of $1,150,000 remains.

“Every council delegate reached beyond their individual regions and came together to understand each other and the Navajo Nation’s own experts and partners,” said Council Delegate Nathaniel Brown (Chilchinbeto, Dennehotso, Kayenta), co-sponsor of Legislation No. 0144-20. “With our traditional teachings in mind, we face the coronavirus and learn the importance of our old way of life. Diné bina’nítin, our Navajo teachings, tell us about the reverence and respect for all living things that we are beginning to rediscover and follow again. This vote is the voice of the Navajo People, and it will go a very long way in combating the coronavirus and anything that might threaten us in the future.”

Overall, the Navajo Nation Council deliberated for more than 28 hours on the Council floor on Legislation No. 0144-20. The sessions were held telephonically with Speaker Damon presiding from the Navajo Nation Council Chamber in Window Rock. Prior to the legislation, the Naabik’íyáti’ Committee and council delegates conducted more than a dozen public work sessions and follow-up meetings spanning hundreds of hours.

The discussions resulted in the classification of many long-term projects that require more time beyond the federal deadline to expend CARES Act funds. Any extension from Congress would result in those projects gaining priority for future Navajo Nation CARES Fund authorized expenditures.

In accordance with the federal CARES Act and U.S. Treasury guidelines, the Navajo Nation Council considered each expenditure a necessary cost in addressing the coronavirus pandemic.

From the beginning of the pandemic, deliberations of the 24th Navajo Nation Council have been streamed publicly online and through social media. Archived videos can be found on the Navajo Nation Council’s Vimeo, Youtube and Facebook websites.

Upon the final certification of Legislation No. 0144-20 by Speaker Damon, the resolution will be delivered to the Office of the President and Vice President for signature and enactment, regular veto, or line-item veto. The resolution automatically becomes Navajo Nation law after ten days of receiving it and if no action was taken.

Pending the final certification of the resolution, authorized amounts listed are subject to minor corrections through the administrative quality control process carried out by the Office of Legislative Services.

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