Some $31 million in federal COVID-19 relief money will smooth this year’s budgeting process for Navajo County and the cities of the White Mountains, according to a presentation this week to the Board of Supervisors.

A massive infusion of federal money will also enable the White Mountain and Navajo tribal government to not only offset the deadly toll of the pandemic, but provide everything from housing, water and childcare to electricity and broadband service.

Navajo County will collect a $21.5 million windfall, with cities in the southern half of the county collecting an additional $9.7 million. Most of the federal money should arrive before the end of May.

Projected allocations for individual cities include:

• Show Low: $2.7 million

• Pinetop-Lakeside: $1 million

• Snowflake: $1.4 million

• Taylor: $1 million

• Winslow: $2.3 million

• Holbrook: $1.2 million

The counties and cities have broad freedom in how to spend the money, part of a second round of COVID-19 stimulus spending by the federal government that amounted to some $1.9 trillion nationally.

A large share of the money will go to addressing the direct impact of the pandemic, including economic harms to workers, families, small businesses, government and industry. The money can also be used to replace money lost due to reductions in revenue from things like shutdowns and restrictions on businesses.

Another chunk will go to health care responses, like medical expenses, vaccinations, public health and staffing.

The money can also fund water and sewer infrastructure, premium pay for essential workers and investments in broadband infrastructure.

The county and most of the cities will decide on how to actually spend the money in the process of adopting their 2020-21 budgets — a process that’s underway now.

All told, Arizona received some $16 billion from the final round of COVID-19 stimulus — on top of the $9 billion received in two previous bills. That doesn’t include money spent to add to the weekly unemployment benefit for people whose jobs were affected by the pandemic or the $1,400 direct payments to taxpayers.

The state government kept billions in stimulus money, contributing to a current $4 billion state surplus. The state’s current budget plan calls for a $1 billion annual cut in the top income tax rate — embracing a flat tax rate that will provide a windfall for upper-income taxpayers. The state also will receive about $3 billion in education funding, which the budget proposal would invest mostly in an expansion in vouchers and charter school funding or stash in the general fund. The proposed state budget would actually cut K-12 funding, thanks to an enrollment decline during the pandemic of some 50,000.

The reservation governments will get their own stimulus payments. The latest $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan included $31 billion for tribal governments, with money earmarked for health care, housing, vaccinations, medical care, housing, roads, economic development and a host of other needs. The latest package included an extra $6 billion of Indian Health Services. Earlier stimulus bills had included $8 billion for the tribes.

The American Rescue Plan also included $1.2 billion for housing, $1.1 billion for educational programs, $1 billion for child care programs, $75 million for food assistance, $600 million for economic development and $20 million to combat domestic violence on the reservations.

“The Navajo Nation is fighting hard to mitigate through this pandemic,” said Vice President Myron Lizer. “Through the collaboration of many entities, the Nation was also able to provide water resources, bathroom additions, electricity, internet service, and other improvements for many families and communities. We look forward to continuing building off of that success and working together to make more progress,” said Vice President Lizer.

“The Navajo Nation was hit very hard by COVID-19,” said President Jonathan Nez, “but thanks to our health care workers, frontline warriors, and our Navajo people, we are pushing back and fighting hard to mitigate the impacts and save lives. With the new relief funds, we anticipate providing more direct relief and assistance for our Navajo people as well as funding projects that provide long-term benefits.”

Native Americans have suffered among the highest infection and death rates from the pandemic. Even before COVID, Native Americans had a much lower life expectancy, higher rates of chronic disease, higher rates of poverty and a lack of infrastructure — including water, housing and electricity on the reservation.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com

(1) comment

2linden

Looks like it was a good thing that the Democrats didn’t join all the Republicans in voting against these bills.

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