A recent disaster declaration by Pres. Joe Biden has paved the way for the Utah and Arizona Navajo Nation to receive COVID-19 relief funds.

The disaster declaration will free up federal resources and reimburse emergency funds used to fight the effects of the virus on the Navajo reservation. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez called the declaration “a great step forward” toward curbing the pandemic that has claimed more than 1,000 lives among the Navajo people. The declaration will support the Navajo Nation’s vaccine distribution, medical staffing and requests for resources and equipment.

“Our administration has advocated for the declaration for quite some time, so we are very appreciative of the quick response from the Biden-Harris administration,” Nez said in a statement. He said that he and Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer met with White House officials recently to ask for additional COVID-19 vaccines and reaffirm the need for a disaster declaration.

“We are very pleased with today’s announcement,” said Lizer. “We have many of our Navajo people who are struggling not only with resources, but with the toll that the pandemic has taken on their mental and spiritual health.”

Navajo Nation officials also received word that U.S. Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, had introduced legislation that would funnel $1.3 billion toward the Sanitation Facilities Construction Program in an effort to support water and sanitation projects for the country’s tribal communities. Nez said that roughly 30 percent of residents of the Navajo Nation lack access to running water and adequate sanitation, which contributes to the reservation’s high per-capita rate of coronavirus infections.

“With some of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the country, the Navajo Nation faces a dire situation — due in large part to a lack of water infrastructure and sanitation facilities,” Romney said in a press release. “Our legislation will address this issue head-on by authorizing the construction and renovation of water and sewer sanitation facilities in Native communities in Utah and throughout the country.”

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