Navajo Nation president authorizes $576 million COVID-19 stimulus for Diné communities as omicron surges


Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has authorized more than $500 million in new COVID-19 “hardship assistance” to the Diné as Indigenous communities and San Juan County, working to combat omicron variation spreads rapidly.

On January 4th, Nez signed a Navajo Nation resolution directed $557 million in US Rescue Plan Act funds – COVID-19 relief passed early in the Biden administration – to be used for individual stimulus payments, an effort which he hopes will mitigate the prolonged and continuing effects of the pandemic.

About 345,000 Dinés are eligible for the hardship benefit, with Navajo Nation adults receiving $2,000 and younger members receiving $600.

Nearly a week earlier, Nez had approved $16 million of the remaining CARES Act funds to be reallocated to assist Navajo elders — members over 60 — with hardship payments. additional $300.

“We love our Diné people and we don’t want any more of our people to lose their lives to this modern day monster known as COVID-19. With the passage of another round of hardship assistance, we are especially asking people to use the funds for essential items and services that will help protect and prepare your home and family,” said Nez. in a statement after signing the second resolution.

And while the financial relief will help the people of Diné as they prepare for what could be the third year of the coronavirus pandemic, the Navajo community has spent the past two years putting in place volunteer response systems.

Volunteer-led relief groups, known by the community as “mutual aid groups,” have delivered thousands of packages of care, food and even firewood to people quarantined by the virus.

Mutual aid networks in San Juan County, such as Utah Navajo COVID-19 Relief Program and Navajo & Hopi . Family COVID-19 Relief Fund, built on kinship in the indigenous communities of the Four Corners region. In some cases, volunteer groups are supported by the local health care system.

About 9,000 care packages have been delivered to residents in the San Juan County community of Navajo/Paiute Mountain, Statue Valley, said Sahar Khadjenoury, program coordinator for the Utah Navajo COVID-19 Relief Program. radio, Blanding and Montezuma.

(Zak Podmore | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sahar Khadjenoury, an employee of the Utah Navajo Health System in Montezuma Creek, holds a box of donated produce.

This winter, the Utah Navajo COVID-19 Relief Program focused on families with positive cases and maintained a regular distribution of childcare supplies and packages to community members. . Khadjenoury said the team’s response to COVID-19 is in response to the love of the community.

“When you hear about a death in the community, these things make a huge impact on us,” said Khadjenoury, referring to the cultural and linguistic knowledge that is lost after the deaths of adults. Dine’s age. “And giving back to the community is the best way I can show my kinship and respect for my family by helping others.”

She added that mutual aid networks like the Utah Navajo COVID-19 Relief Program are as simple as caring for one another, including cutting wood for a loved one or transporting water for an elderly person.

“I think relief groups have been successful in finding other like-minded individuals who are willing to roll up their sleeves and make these distributions doable,” Khadjenoury said. “And finding ways to care about people is the best way to show someone’s pride in your community, to be proud of yourself but also to pay respect to the way our community has come to be. care for each other for centuries.”

Like the rest of the county, the omicron variant was first detected in the Navajo Nation in late 2021. The prospect of a pandemic with no apparent end to end has rattled volunteers and caregivers. health began to envision how their response and relief efforts could be expanded. In the long term.

Katerina Benally, a full-time public health nurse with the Utah Navajo Health System, confirmed that the omicron variant was detected in San Juan County. The Navajo Department of Epidemiology reported that the omicron variant was detected from a sample collected in mid-December.

In addition to her role in contact tracing and providing care for those who test positive for COVID-19, Benally volunteers with the Utah Navajo COVID-19 Relief Program and helps the team deliver packages. their care.

With the increase in omicrons, the Navajo Nation is having a 10% positive rate among those tested, Benally said.

“That is a high number when it comes to public health standards,” she explains.

On Friday, Navajo Health Department reported a total of more than 42,600 COVID-19 cases and nearly 1,600 related deaths.

In Monument Valley, Shandiin Herrera has spearheaded efforts to distribute food, quarantine kits and make hand-sewn masks. She also worked with the Navajo & Hopi Family COVID-19 Relief mutual aid group to open a long-term resource center that provides residents with internet access and a book library.

Following its launch in March 2020, the Navajo & Hopi COVID-19 Family Relief team’s initial efforts included distributing food and personal protective equipment and distributing hand-washing stations to those who are not. has potable water in San Juan County. The group also raised more than US$7.5 million during the early stages of the pandemic to help with phase one of direct relief work.

The new community center, which already serves about 28% of the local population, is a better option for people who normally drive 75 miles one way to Blanding to use services like printing and faxing, Herrera says. The center has also organized classes such as sewing, computer or beading workshops.

During periods of high deltas and omicrons, Herrera said the team has become more strategic with direct relief work, focusing on virus-hit places.

“We are constantly looking for ways we can help our community. And internally, we focus on, like what we call, the Hogan level,” Herrera said. “We’re trying to make sure families with food, firewood to keep warm, can wash their hands to reduce the risk of getting COVID.”

Navajo National Assembly delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, a Navajo Nation lawmaker who advocates hardship testing and has worked with community volunteer groups, said the fiscal stimulus is one example of a direct government bailout that complements the existing work of the two sides. aid network.

“Our people are really tired, they are mentally tired,” says Crotty. “We are being pulled thin. So now we are also asked to pay more for less. And so this is a time when this funding can help pay some outstanding bills or pay for the increased cost of essential supplies. ” Navajo Nation president authorizes $576 million COVID-19 stimulus for Diné communities as omicron surges

Yasmin Harisha

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