$111 million in ARPA Hardship funds still available


With $111 million remaining in the Navajo Nation’s U.S. bailout hardship relief pot, now might be a good time to apply.

After a bumpy rollout of ARPA’s Hardship Assistance Program last February, the Comptroller’s Office is now better positioned to administer remaining hardship funds to eligible applicants, according to a report shared with the Budget and Finance Committee. last week.

Navajo Weather | Krista Allen
A woman walks out $2,000 after cashing her ARPA Hardship Assistance check at Wells Fargo in Tuba City on Thursday, March 3. The bank asked the Navajo Times to protect the customer’s identity unless the customer agrees to be photographed.

The hardship assistance aims to provide financial relief to Diné who has suffered financial losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with payments of $2,000 for adults and $600 for minors.

Over the past spring and summer, the understaffed and overwhelmed OOC Hardship team struggled to deal with thousands of calls and emails from frustrated candidates who had not received their checks by mail due to incorrect addresses or problems with their applications or IPCs.

Long lines at OOC “Returned Check Drives” at various locations on and off the reserve further stoked frustrations.

But now most of the previous issues have been resolved and the number of new applicants has slowed down at the Hardship Team Office, according to team leader Wallace James.

“Right now our doors are open to the public,” James said. “We are located at Admin. Building 1 upstairs. We accept new candidates and we take information.

James said many new applicants are now new tribal registrants and his office receives an average of 50 new applications per week.

“Every new candidate that comes in, we process it the same day,” he added.

James said the time frame in which a candidate applies for the check to be mailed is a few weeks as they go through verification and quality review before being approved for a vetting cycle.

Improved customer service

Emerson Horace, ARPA Hardship Accounting Supervisor for the Comptroller’s Office, said since February 2022, 72 check cycles have been completed, with 337,830 checks paid to eligible Navajo enrollees for a total of $558 million as of September 20.

A total of $677 million has been allocated for the hardship program by the Navajo Nation Council and President Jonathan Nez to accommodate the approximately 411,000 tribal members of the Navajo Nation.

Navajo Weather | Krista Allen
A money counter shuffles bills inside the Wells Fargo bank in Window Rock.

James said his team now has the full support of senior management.

“Mr. Horace is actually our third supervisor with the difficulties team,” James said. “Each supervisor had a different view of how difficulties are going to be handled.”

Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty asked Horace and James to provide information on the current number of pending nominations.

“What is the plan to help people who have applied and are waiting for their hardship check?” she asked.

James said the comptroller’s office had resolved a backlog of more than 5,000 inquiries about candidate hardship. Approximately 800 pending applications were sent to the controller for quality review.

“As soon as these are filtered, they will be paid,” he said.

While his team of 20 temporary workers still receive hundreds of calls and emails a day, James said they now have a system in place to respond to them as quickly as possible.

“We are responding to calls from our side,” he said. “Every day I have staff doing callbacks or returning emails.”

James said his team is still working with Vital Records to resolve remaining IPC issues, including duplicate IPCs, which can take time.

“We fix those IPCs, and once we fix them, we add those candidates to the list to make them pay,” he said.

A group of employees also focused on contacting the remaining candidates whose checks were returned.

“We call applicants and let them know their check has been returned,” he said. “They have the option of coming in person and picking up their check in person, or they can give us another address where we can send the checks.”

Additionally, checks that were issued but are now expired are being reissued, James said.

Need an online portal

Crotty suggested that at that time, it would have been nice to have an automated hardship portal available where applicants could enter their name and CIB and check the status of their application.

“I’m just trying to figure out how we can support loved ones who continue to contact delegates,” Crotty said. “When our loved ones don’t hear a response from the office, we get that information.”

James informed the B&F that the development of a portal where applicants can go online and view the status of their application and verify is being planned.

Horace added that a contract was recently signed with a vendor to establish a database of all hardship information, which would serve as the basis for an online portal.

However, Horace said it would take time to organize all Hardship application files and data, including CIB numbers.

Crotty insisted, saying the comptroller had millions of dollars to staff the hardship desk and implement adequate technology resources to handle all hardship candidate information.

She added that this would not be the only time the Navajo Nation government would have to provide direct communication or services to its people.

“I hope that at some point government information systems will be modernized and reformed so that we are not in these predicaments,” she said. “This should be a pivotal point for our government to be able to identify and know where all of our citizens are.”

Information: www.nnooc.org or call (928) 223-3536 or email [email protected]

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