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Navajo could get windfall of money from massive spending bill

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WASHINGTON - The Navajo Nation stands to benefit from a $373 billion funding bill passed by the House on Dec. 8 by a 242-176 vote.

Included in the bill are some projects that have been on the tribe's wish list for years. Among the projects earmarked for Navajos in the Omnibus bill are:

*$1 million for emergency drought assistance (passed earlier by both Houses, H.R. 2754)

*$30 million for the construction of the Red Mesa Health Center in Red Mesa, Ariz.

*$9.2 million for staffing of the Fort Defiance Hospital in Fort Defiance, Ariz.

*$3 million to help provide electricity for some families on the Navajo Nation. (H.R. 2754)

*$1.25 million in improvements for the Turquoise Trail, a 52-mile stretch of road.

*$235,000 to update crime prevention equipment on Navajo

*$18 million for the Pinon Health Center

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Other tribes also stand to benefit from the bill.

*Indian country has also been earmarked $685 million for the Native American housing block grant, also known as NAHASDA. This is $13 million above last year's funding award.

*$300,000 for the White Mountain Apache Tribe to develop a master plan for drinking water.

The funding bill will be taken up when the Senate reconvenes in January. So far, some legislators and citizen's groups have criticized the bill calling it "pork barrel" spending. "We seem to have no shame," Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said about the bill. Flake had gained some notoriety for issuing "Congressman Flake's Egregious Pork Item of the Day," press releases which poked fun at some projects.

A windfall of federal money for long overdue Navajo projects has one top Navajo official excited. "Obviously, this is a very positive thing," said Navajo Nation Chief of Staff Patrick Sandoval. "If the Navajo Nation comes away from this with all the funding, that is good and it is a result of President Shirley's efforts."

The Red Mesa Health Care Center has been in the planning since the mid 1980s. Once built, it would serve 10,000 Navajos near the Arizona-Utah border.

The Turquoise Trial project is a joint venture between the Navajo and Hopi tribes to construct a highway that crosses over both tribal lands. The project began in the 1960s and has been funded intermittently over the years.

The Navajo electrification project would "provide funding to continue a project to connect Navajo homes to electricity by either extending power lines from pole to house or providing distributed power technologies, such as fuel cells, solar photovoltaics, solar thermal systems, and wind technologies to remote communities," said GOP Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz. Renzi's district covers the Navajo Nation.

According to news reports, President Bush is in favor of the bill's passage which has been largely called a Republican sponsored bill. The Omnibus is one massive bill consisting of seven appropriations bills. Some of the bills have already been passed by both houses and now await President Bush's signature.