Navajo Nation receives $714 million in federal CARES Act funding
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — The Navajo Nation received $714,189,631 June 26 from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The funds are part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stimulus (CARES) Act payments to state, local and tribal governments approved April 27 by Congress and President Donald Trump.
The federal CARES Act mandated the distribution of Coronavirus Relief Fund payments by the U.S. Treasury within 30 days of being enacted. However, the U.S. Treasury missed the deadline for distributing $8 billion appropriated to federally recognized tribal nations. In early May, Navajo Nation leaders were notified that 60 percent, or $4.8 billion, would be released to tribal governments by May 6.
On that day, the Navajo Nation Office of the Controller confirmed federal deposits in the amount of $600,559,530. That amount was the Navajo Nation’s share, up to that point, based on a distribution formula adopted by the U.S. Treasury and the Department of the Interior (DOI).
The second round of deposits for the remaining 40 percent were initiated June 15, nearly two months after the deadline set by Congress. The Navajo Nation received a deposit of $86,358,877 the same day.
However, a portion of was again withheld by the U.S. Treasury to cover payments to Alaska Native corporations. Those funds, and the decision to include Alaska Native corporations in federal CARES Act distributions to governments, were the subject of a legal complaint by several tribal governments, which included the Navajo Nation, against the U.S. Treasury.
On June 15, U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta ruled that the U.S. Treasury did not have proper authority to continue withholding coronavirus relief funds intended for tribal nations. Judge Mehta ordered that remaining amounts be released without further delay.
As a result, the Controller confirmed the Navajo Nation received an additional $27,271,224 from the U.S. Treasury June 18. That brought the total amount to $714,189,631.
The Controller also reported that all coronavirus relief funds received by the Navajo Nation from the federal CARES Act were deposited into a separate account created specifically to ensure it did not co-mingle with Navajo Nation general funds. None of that amount has been spent, to date.
Through Navajo Nation Council Resolution No. CMY-44-20, known as the Navajo Nation CARES Fund Act, a legal framework was approved for the expenditure of the funds.
Navajo Nation Speaker Seth Damon introduced that legislation May 7, a day after the first deposits were confirmed, in the hopes of streamlining the process of spending the entire amount of federal relief funds by Dec. 30.
CMY-44-20 enables any organization or entity to develop an expenditure plan to request funding from the Navajo Nation to use in COVID-19 relief or response activities for the benefit of the Navajo People. The vetting process for all projects included an approval vote of the Navajo Nation Council and the signature of the Navajo Nation President.
Using parts of CMY-44-20, the 24th Navajo Nation Council approved two major immediate expenditures from the Navajo Nation CARES Fund June 19. A package totaling $134,059,530 was approved through Navajo Nation Council Legislation Nos. 0132-20 and 0116-20.
The immediate expenditures, which are the first to authorize Navajo Nation CARES Fund expenditures, are intended to address personal protective equipment (PPE), hazard pay for front-line responders and others, facility safety assurance measures, relief and support for Navajo Nation chapter governments and more.
“On behalf of the 24th Navajo Nation Council, I want to express to all Navajo People out there that the government has every intention of ensuring every expenditure and cost is accounted for and that it ultimately went toward producing constructive outcomes for the health and wellbeing of Navajo communities,” Damon said. “In working together with the President and Chief Justice of the Navajo Nation, we will ensure the expenditure of these monies will help prevent this and future pandemics from having such drastic outcomes as COVID-19.”
On June 26, Judge Mehta ruled Alaska Native corporations were eligible for federal CARES funds. With that ruling, the U.S. Treasury reported that all payments have been completed to tribal governments.
Until Congress approves new funding for COVID-19 response activities, the deposits are expected to be the last from the Coronavirus Relief Fund. Navajo leaders continue to take a multi-level approach to request an extension from Congress regarding the Dec. 30 deadline to expend federal CARES funds, particularly because of the delay in receiving deposits from the U.S. Treasury.
Information provided by the Office of the Navajo Nation Speaker’s Office