Navajo leader OKs $557M in virus relief funds for members
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — Navajo President Jonathan Nez has signed legislation to provide $557 million in hardship assistance to tribal members amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Nez approved the bill late Tuesday to send $2,000 checks to adult tribal members and $600 for each child using federal virus relief funding. The Navajo Nation doesn’t issue per capita payments to tribal members, which made the widespread financial assistance rare and highly anticipated.
Nez urged tribal members to use the money responsibly, including to help the elderly, students and veterans or pay outstanding bills.
“Remember, we’re not out of this pandemic yet,” Nez said Wednesday morning. “So don’t go and spend all this money. Put some aside, the pandemic is still here. Plan.”
Later Wednesday, Navajo Nation health officials reported 168 new confirmed COVID-19 cases along with two more deaths. The numbers pushed the totals to 41,971 cases and 1,592 deaths on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah since the pandemic began.
The Navajo Nation Council voted to tap some of the $2.1 billion the tribe received from the American Rescue Plan Act that President Joe Biden signed last year. The money will be sent automatically to tribal members who applied a year ago for relief funds under a previous round of hardship assistance.
An estimated 250,000 adults each will receive $2,000 payments, and the parents or guardians of 95,000 tribal members under the age of 18 will receive $600 for each child.
Nez previously approved $300 checks for tribal residents age 60 and older who showed they needed extra assistance under separate legislation. The tribe was up against a deadline to spend the $16 million it had from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act approved by former President Donald Trump, or have it revert to the federal government.
The Navajo Nation also used CARES Act funding to send the first round of hardship assistance payments.
Navajos clamored to enroll or fix their records to apply for the funding, boosting the tribe’s rolls from about 306,000 members to nearly 400,000. That figure briefly put the Navajo Nation in the No. 1 spot for enrollment among all 574 federally recognized tribes before being topped again by the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.
The tribe paid out about $360 million to 312,000 applicants, according to the tribal controller’s office said. Adults received up to $1,350 and children up to $450. Other tribes around the country also used federal relief funding to issue hardship payments to tribal members.
Navajo leaders say they now will turn to funding infrastructure projects, including electricity, broadband, water lines and roads.