Navajo Nation leader vetoes items from federal virus aid

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez talks about coronavirus safety measures during a May 28 online town hall. (Photo via Facebook)

The Associated Press

President Jonathan Nez says he blocked $73 million in expenditures because council members were trying to include 'pet projects and frivolous spending'

GALLUP, N.M. (AP) — The president of the Navajo Nation used line-item vetoes on two bills distributing funds from a federal coronavirus relief package. 

The Navajo Nation Council passed two bills calling for the use of $93.1 million and $42 million from the $600 million the tribe received from the federal government May 6.

President Jonathan Nez said in a statement that he vetoed $73 million in specific expenditures because council members attempted to "include pet projects and frivolous spending."

On Saturday, Nez eliminated $72 million from the $93.1 million approved by the council.

The vetoes included $7 million to help individuals whose homes were destroyed by fire, $55 million to 110 tribal chapters for relief aid at the local level and $10 million to the Navajo Nation Judicial Branch to address COVID-19.

The second bill approved $42 million to cover special duty pay for front line and essential workers, purchase personal protective equipment for employees, pay for deep cleaning government buildings, and assist the Dine Hataalii Association Inc.

Nez rejected $1 million from the funding for the Dine Hataalii, a nonprofit organization focused on traditional healing practices and cultural education.

The allocation did not comply with guidelines from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Nez said.

Council Speaker Seth Damon defended the council's intention to "continue to push legislation that focuses on getting this money spent for the benefit of the Navajo People."

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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