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Stimulus Czar Talking Big Bucks, But No Specifics

Navajo Times, News Report , Bill Donovan Posted: Jul 30, 2009

Efforts by the Navajo Nation to take advantage of federal stimulus dollars are going well, tribal officials said this week.

However, they still have not released specific information about what projects will be built using money allocated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Arvin Trujillo, director of the Division of Natural Resources and the person put in charge of coordinating the tribe's stimulus program, estimated Navajos could get some $300 million in stimulus funds from block grants and set-asides for Indian Country.

That figure may increase when the competitive rounds of funding begin. Billions of dollars are still to be released by the federal government, but the tribe will have to compete with city, state and county governments for that money.

"We're going to see funding for roads, housing, water delivery lines, bathroom additions, medical equipment and renovation of Rough Rock School," Trujillo said.

All of the projects are shovel-ready, he added, a key criteria for the stimulus program.

The Navajo Nation had also hoped to get a portion of the federal stimulus funds set aside to repair or build tribal jails but Trujillo said all that money was allocated to other tribes.

He's still hoping, however, that some funding for new jails will become available during the competitive application process that will take place later this year.

The tribe has submitted a $142 million proposal to build new jails and law enforcement facilities in each of the reservation's seven police districts.

President Joe Shirley Jr., who is recuperating from surgery performed Saturday to remove his appendix, said in his written quarterly report that the tribe will establish a tribal Recovery and Reinvestment Act Office to "properly oversee and monitor all stimulus funding activities."

So far, Shirley said, the tribe has been awarded $34.4 million in NAHASDA block-grant funding, $47.2 million for reservation roads, $9 million for the weatherization program, $35.8 million for BIA road maintenance projects, and $2.8 million for BIA bridge maintenance.

The tribe also received $143 million for BIA school improvements and repairs, $6.9 million for workforce development, and another $31.3 million through IHS and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for water and sewer improvements.

Trujillo said the tribe is hoping to have the new office to oversee spending of recovery money in operation by September or October.

He said he expects that it will cost about $1 million to get the office up and running and another $2 million to $2.5 million a year for its operation. The office is expected to have a four-year lifespan.

While the tribe will have to come up with some of the seed money itself, Trujillo said he hopes that much of the rest of the funding comes from the federal stimulus program, which allows for administrative costs.

The oversight office is important, he said, because of stiff requirements in the federal law to ensure that recovery money is spent as intended.

Exactly who will monitor that office is still undecided but Trujillo said he hopes that it is put directly under the president's office.

Meanwhile, Aneva Yazzie, director of the Navajo Housing Authority, said her agency has until next May to enter into contracts to build housing funded under the $34.4 million housing grant given to the tribe by the stimulus program. After that, NHA must expend at least half the money within two years and have it all spent within three years.

Yazzie said NHA will have no problem meeting those deadlines.

As for the other projects in the program, Trujillo said the recovery office will be responsible for making sure that the tribe meets deadlines.

While the tribe in the past has come under sharp criticism from federal agencies for not meeting deadlines to get projects done, Trujillo said this has not been a problem in recent years.

In cases where delays have been unavoidable, the tribe has made sure to communicate to the funding source the cause for delay, he said.

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