► Understanding the Navajo Nation CARES Act Fund legislation

On May 6, 2020, the Navajo Nation recently received $600 million from the federal CARES Act funding for coronavirus relief efforts. You can read the full article here. This funding is now in the beginning processes of legislation called the Navajo Nation CARES Fund Act (NNCFA). Here’s that legislation.

This legislation is sponsored by the the Navajo Nation Speaker Seth Damon and will soon make its way to the (1) Law & Order Committee and then to the (2) Budget & Finance Committee. After it passes through those committees, it will go to the (3) Nabik’iyati’ Committee and finally be voted on the (4) Navajo Nation Council Floor.

As a former Legislative District Assistant to the Navajo Nation, this is how I examined the NNCFA. I first looked at section two called “Findings” in the NNCFA. There a few things that I noticed: The CARES Act provides that the Coronavirus Relief Fund shall be used to cover only (a) necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19; (b) expenditures that were not accounted for in the Tribal budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020; and (c) expenditures incurred from March 1, 2020 through December 30, 2020. So, there a timeline to when the NNCFA can be used and that’s a pretty tight deadline, which means nobody can this mess up.

The NNCFA was determined via “Coronavirus Relief Fund Allocations to Tribal Governments,” which is the U.S. Treasury Department’s methodology on how they distributed the $8 billion to Tribal governments. The methodology they used was based on the tribes’ FY2019 expenditures. This also means that tribes need to develop strict requirements on how this funding can be used (for more info see Allocation determination).

Lastly, the NNCFA is not projected revenue and can’t be subject to any provisions of the Navajo Nation Code and/or set-aside and/or deposited into any other fund of the Navajo Nation.

So who will be eligible?

In a section called §2604 Expenditures of the Fund, it states that NNCFA can be used to address: (1) medical or public health needs; (2) expenditures incurred to respond to second-order effects of the emergency ( i.e., providing economic support to those suffering from employment or business interruptions due to COVID-19-related business closures).

Who Get’s the Ball Rolling on this?

The Navajo Nation Office of Management and Budget will develop an Expenditure Plan that will be finalized by the Budget and Finance Committee. Here are some key players in developing the template for the expenditure plan in which they have 10 days to enact NNCFA; the Office of the Controller, Department of Justice, Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of Legislative Counsel.

So what can we do?

That will be on my next post where I will explain how members of the Navajo Nation can utilize their voice to ensure this $600 million CARES Act fund doesn’t go to waste.