Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has approved more than $475 million of a $651 million spending bill passed in late July by the Navajo Nation Council. The money was allocated from the federal CARES Act and is intended to help the Navajo government address the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Nez line-item vetoed more than $175 million in projects from the council’s plan.
In an Aug. 16 letter to Council Speaker Seth Damon, Nez said some projects could not be completed by the year-end deadline.
“We are ready to work collectively and swiftly with the Navajo Nation Council to adjust some projects to bring more help to Navajo communities while providing a broader range of services,” Nez wrote.
Nez struck $15 million in telecommunication projects and $34.1 million in solar projects from the plan.
The Navajo president also vetoed $23.9 million for solid waste projects, $48.8 million for payroll, $33.4 million in housing projects and $20 million for CARES Act administrative compliance.
Nez left $130 million for water projects intact. More than 30% of Navajo homes lack running water, according to a report from the U.S. Water Alliance and DigDeep.
In weeks of council discussions about spending the federal aid, delegates said a massive investment in water infrastructure would help stop the spread of COVID-19.
“These water projects represent some of the most immediate and most dire needs of the Navajo people,” Speaker Damon said.
The Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources will receive more than $87 million, and the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority will receive $18.6 million. Nearly $21 million will fund cisterns, septic tanks and plumbing systems.
A To’hajiilee-Albuquerque Water Supply Line gets $2 million from the legislation. The Whitehorse Lake-Sand Springs pipeline will receive about $937,000.
More than $75.8 million will be allocated for the Navajo Department of Health, and $9.6 million is for the Judicial Branch to implement COVID-19 safety measures.
Also approved in the final legislation is money for power lines, internet and solar projects.
About $24.6 million will go to the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise. Navajo-owned casinos have been closed since March.
The Navajo Nation Division of Economic Development will receive $60 million to help businesses recover.
The Navajo government has about $176.4 million remaining from the CARES Act.
The reservation has moved into an “orange phase” of restrictions as COVID-19 cases continue to decline. On Monday, the Navajo Nation reported 12 new virus cases and no new deaths.