WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – The Navajo Nation Council Health, Education and Human Services, after several hours of debate, unanimously voted to add the prioritization of individuals who are 65-years-old and older to receive the first batch of Hardship Assistance checks during the first week of December.
After the Health, Education and Human Services Committee’s unanimously voted to add the prioritization of individuals 65-years-0ld and older to the eligibility criteria and the application and approval process for the CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Expenditure Plan, which is in Legislation 0251-20, the HEHS Committee unanimously voted to support 0251-20 and move it to the Council Budget and Finance Committee.
The Budget and Finance Committee has final approval over 0251-20, which is the eligibility criteria and application and approval process for the Hardship Assistance Program.
The Budget and Finance is scheduled to meet at 8 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 15. Legislation 0251-20, the Hardship Assistance eligibility criteria, application, and approval process, is on the BFC proposed agenda.
Navajo Nation Council Delegate Carl Slater, who represents the chapters of Round Rock, Rock Point, Tséch’izí, Lukachugai, and Tsaile-Wheatfieldsis, is sponsoring Legislation 0251-20, which seeks final approval by the BFC of the Hardship Assistance eligibility criteria, application, and approval process. The co-sponsors are Speaker Seth Damon, who represents the chapters of Baahaali, Chilchiltah, Manuelito, Red Rock, Rock Springs, and Tsayatoh, and Council Delegate Edison Wauneka, who represents the chapters of Oaksprings and St. Michaels.
Navajo Nation Controller Pearline Kirk advised the HEHS Committee that the Council needs to put any unspent or unencumbered CARES money that the Council appropriated to the Executive and Judicial Branches into the Hardship Assistance budget.
Kirk said the amount of funds in the Hardship Assistance Fund will determine how much the Office of the Controller or OOC is able to pay out.
She explained that the OOC ran some numbers and determined that $400 million would be needed if 100% of the estimated 328,000 enrolled Navajos applied for Hardship Assistance.
If 75% of the estimated 328,000 enrolled Navajos or 285,000 Navajos applied for Hardship Assistance, there would be a need for $300 million, Kirk added.
She said the estimated $400 million and $300 million would cover $1500 for every adult Navajo and $500 for every minor.
Kirk recommended again to the HEHS to keep the qualifications or eligibility criteria simple.
She said she hired outside an indigenous consultant company that has worked with other tribal governments to develop similar Hardship Assistance Program and the financial portal to process and issue individual Hardship Assistance checks.
Kirk said she is hoping that the Hardship Assistance eligibility criteria, application, and approval process is finalized by the Budget and Finance tomorrow, Thursday, which would help the Office of the Controller to set Deadlines.
She recommended that the month of November be used to accept Hardship Assistance applications so that her staff could verify applicant information, which would eliminate fraud, prioritize applicants who are 65 years-old and older, and eliminate the first come, first serve process or so called free for all.
Since elders are a priority, they would receive the first batch of Hardship Assistance checks, which the Office of the Controller has proposed to begin the first week of December, Kirk proposed.
She reported that some tribes did per capita payments with their CARES money and then later found out that the per capita process was ineligible under CARES guidelines issued by the US Treasury.
The DRAFT CARES guidelines issued by the Treasury are attached as Exhibits 1-A, 1-B, and 1-C.
The two-page DRAFT “Navajo Nation CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Expenditure Plan” is Exhibit 2.
Exhibit B is the DRAFT CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Program Application, as of Oct. 6.
Some Council delegates warned that there are FAKE Hardship Assistance Applications that are being circulated.
According to the DRAFT Navajo Nation Hardship Assistance Application, “Adults over the age of 18 years are eligible to receive up to $15000 and minors under the age of 18 are eligible to receive up to $500 per person.
HEHS member Charlaine Tso, who represents the chapters of Mexican Water, To’likan, Teesnospos, Aneth, and Red Mesa, and HEHS member Paul Begay, who represents the chapters of Coppermine, K’aibii’to, LeChee, Tonalea/Red Lake, and Bodaway/Gap, made the motion for elders or those over the age of 65 to be a priority for Hardship Assistance.
Kirk recommended that the application deadline be Dec. 7, which would allow her and her staff to meet the Dec. 30 deadline for expenditure of all CARES money received by the Navajo Nation.
She reported that the Treasury recently requested her office to submit the Navajo Nation’s first report on how the Nation spent its CARES money and she submitted a report with more than 90 pages.
Kirk said she has received questions about whether an individual would qualify for the CARES Hardship program if he or she received a bathroom addition or if he or she received assistance from the CARES Navajo Nation Division of Economic Development small business and artisans hardship assistance.
She answered that bathroom additions and assistance from DED small business and artisans hardship program are two different programs and if an individual received a bathroom addition and, or a CARES small business and artisan help, he or she is not disqualified from the Hardship Assistance Program.
Kirk emphasized that the CARES Hardship Assistance Program is funded by federal CARES relief aid, which has guidelines for spending CARES money on a hardship assistance program.
Slater noted that he created the Navajo Nation CARES Hardship Assistance Program to help and to prioritize every Navajo for CARES dollars because every Navajo has been impacted by COVID-19.
He emphasized that there are young parents with families who have lost their jobs or had hours they work reduced. They are barely affording groceries, much less tablets for their children to attend virtual schools or even Wi-Fi.
Kirk repeated that the eligibility guidelines for the Hardship Program need to remain as simple as possible because that would help in automating the program so checks can be issued as quickly as possible.
Tso also said that her constituents were texting her to ask the Controller about how to qualify for the entire $1500, especially if the reason or reasons they are applying for Hardship Assistance are not among the boxes for them to check.
On the DRAFT application Section 4, Financial Hardships, there is an explanation of “Eligible Expenses,” which states, “Applicants must use funds received from the Hardship Assistance Program to convert the costs of expenses or lost income that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. Funds must be used to reimburse or pay reasonable and necessary personal, family, living, or funeral expenses incurred, including, but not limited to, rent, utilities, childcare, healthcare costs, purchase of personal protective equipment, and cost of food and fuel incurred during the period March 1, 2020 through December 30, 2020.”
There are several boxes for applicants to check for their reason or reasons to apply for the entire $1500 or a portion of the $1500 in Hardship Assistance:
- Loss of income or other financial hardship resulting from unemployment, furlough, or layoff due to COvid-19
- Reduction in income resulting from a loss of hours worked or a decrease in the rate of pay due to the COVID-19
- Purchased personal protective equipment to help prevent the spread of COVID-19
- Unable to pay past due utility bills because of economic hardship due to COVID-19
- Unable to pay some or all my rent or mortgage payments because of economic hardship due to COVID-19.
- Had expenses related to isolation related to COVID-19
- Had livestock related expenses that were incurred due to COVID-19
- Had education related expenses that were incurred due to COVID-19
And there is a blank box for the applicant to describe his or her economic hardship associated with COVID-19.
Slater noted that a short video would be created to explain how to fill out the Hardship Assistance application.
The HEHS recommended that elders receive assistance from chapters, senior citizen centers and Community Health Representatives in filling out the Hardship Assistance application, which will be available online to fill out or download as hard copy to fill out, scan and send to Controller’s Office.
The application’s Section 5: Certification and Authorization is the applicant’s admittance that the information provided in the Hardship Assistance application:
- meets the laws, policy, and rules issued by the Navajo Nation in effect at the time this application is submitted
- is true and does not contain any false or misleading information,
- was made with the knowledge that a conviction of fraud, forgery, criminal impersonation and/or deception, is punishable by restitution or nalyeeh and imprisonment for no more than one year.
Section 5 also stated that any Hardship Assistance payments received:
- Through forgery shall be subject to immediate repayment to the Navajo Nation, nalyeeh and imprisonment for no more than one year.
- Through misrepresentation or fraud, the payments shall be subject to immediate repayment to the Navajo Nation, and nalyeeh, which shall be determined by a Navajo Nation court.
- Through deception shall be subject to immediate repayment to the Navajo Nation and restitution or nalyeeh, as determined by a Navajo Nation court.