With $111 million left in the Navajo Nation’s American Rescue Plan Hardship Assistance pot, now might be a good time to apply.
After the successful rollout of the ARPA Distress Assistance Program last February, the Controller’s office now has a mandate to administer remaining distress funds to eligible applicants, according to a report shared with the Budget and Finance Committee last week. in a better position.
Distress Assistance is intended to provide financial relief to Diné who has suffered financial losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with $2,000 for adults and $600 for minors.
Last spring and summer, the OOC Hardship Team was understaffed, with frustrated applications not receiving checks in the mail due to incorrect addresses or problems with the application or CIB. I was struggling to handle thousands of calls and emails from people.
Long lines at OOC ‘Returned Check Drives’ at various locations both inside and outside the reservation added to the frustration.
But now most of the previous issues have been resolved and the number of new applicants at the Hardship team office is down, according to team leader Wallace James.
“Now our doors are open to the public,” said James. “We are in the administration. Building 1, 2nd floor. We are looking for new applicants and accepting inquiries.”
Many new applicants are now tribal new registrants, James said, with his office averaging 50 new applications a week.
“We process all new applicants on the same day,” he added.
James said the timeframe between when an applicant applies and when a check is mailed is several weeks, as the check goes through verification and quality reviews before being approved for execution.
Improve customer service
Since February 2022, 72 checks have been executed, and as of Sept. 20, there were 337,830 eligible Navajo registrants, said Emerson Horace, ARPA Hardship Accounts Supervisor at the Controller’s Office. , totaling $558 million.
The Navajo Nation Council and President Jonathan Nez have allocated a total of $677 million for hardship programs to house the estimated 411,000 tribal members of the Navajo Nation.
James said his team now has full senior management support.
“Mr. Horace is actually the third supervisor on the Hardship team,” said James. “Each supervisor had a different view of how the difficulties would play out.”
Representative Amber Kanazbah Crotty asked Horace and James to provide information on the current number of outstanding applications.
“What are your plans to help individuals who have applied and are awaiting hardship checks?” she asked.
James said the administration has resolved a backlog of more than 5,000 difficult inquiries from applicants. Approximately 800 outstanding applications were submitted to the controller for quality review.
“As soon as they are ruled out, they are paid,” he said.
His staff of 20 temporary workers still receives hundreds of calls and emails each day, but James says he now has systems in place to address them as quickly as possible.
“We’re on the phone on our side,” he said. “We have staff who are answering calls and emails every day.”
James said his team is still working on critical records and working to resolve the remaining CIB issues, including CIB duplication, which could take time.
“We are fixing those CIBs and when we are done fixing those applicants we will add them to the list and get paid,” he said.
The employee group also stepped up contact with the remaining applicants whose checks were returned.
“We are calling the applicant and letting them know the check has been returned,” he said. “They can choose to come in person and pick up the check in person or provide another address to which the check can be sent.”
Also, checks that were issued but have now expired are being reissued, James said.
Need for an online portal
Crotty suggested that an automated Hardship portal should have been available by this time where applicants could enter their name and CIB and check the status of their application.
“I’m just trying to figure out how I can support relatives who are staying in touch with delegates,” Crotty said. “If our relatives do not hear back from the office, we will get the information.”
James told B&F that it is in the planning stages of developing a portal that will allow applicants to check and review the status of their applications online.
Horace added that a contract was recently signed with the provider to establish a database of all hardship information that will serve as the basis for the online portal.
But Horace said it takes time to sort out all the Hardship application files and data, including CIB numbers.
Crotty stressed that administrators have millions of dollars in funding to properly staff the Hardship office and implement the appropriate technical resources to manage all information for Hardship applicants. Did.
She added that this is not the only time the Navajo Nation government is expected to provide direct communications and services to its citizens.
“Hopefully, at some point, the government’s information system will be modernized and reformed to keep us out of this predicament,” she said. “This should be a key point for the government to locate and know the whereabouts of all citizens.”
Information: www.nnooc.org or call (928) 223-3536 or email ARPA.Hardship@nnooc.org