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Balance grows for Navajo Nation's coronavirus financial assistance program


Noel Lyn Smith   | Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Office of the Controller is reporting that the tribe's CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Program has a balance of $254.96 million.

However, there is the potential for the balance to increase after the close out of money allocated to projects associated with the coronavirus pandemic from the $714.18 the tribe received from the federal coronavirus relief bill.

That optimism was expressed in a press release the controller's office released last week. It also stated that the office "expects" the balance to increase between $322 million and $324 million.

Controller Pearline Kirk explained that the total amount of funding distributed to the hardship assistance program relies on several factors.

"Divisions and subrecipients, such as funds that were granted to Navajo Tribal Utility Authority or other organizations by the Navajo Nation, are still reconciling their final expenditures and awaiting invoices from vendors to be able to close out their grants," Kirk said in the release.

"As such, the amount of $324 million is estimated for the hardship assistance fund, based on the information provided to the Office of the Controller, that is expected to be reverted. The controller's office is working diligently with vendors and subrecipients to expeditiously receive the unspent funding allocated to the hardship assistance program," she added.

Kirk said her office expects to start processing payments to applicants the week of Jan. 18.

Related coverage: COVID-19 infection rates prompt Navajo Nation officials to extend restrictions

The release also notes that in late December, Congress and President Donald Trump approved a Dec. 31, 2021 deadline for spending amounts issued from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Prior to their approval, entities that received aid had to use funding by Dec. 30, 2020.

Although the extension was granted, it did not affect the disbursement to projects on the Navajo Nation that were approved by the Navajo Nation Council and tribal President Jonathan Nez.

"The final expenditure deadline was Dec. 28 at noon. The extension provided no changes to the scope or expenditure timeline for the projects that were approved in previous legislations," Kirk said.

Part of the verification process for the hardship assistance program included verifying the applicant's name, tribal enrollment number and date of birth listed on the Certificate of Indian Blood.

Since that method was used, there have been difficulties verifying several thousand applications. Although there are approximately 225,000 applicants who have passed all eligibility determinations, the release states.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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