HPL families get new chance for federal relocation benefits
 
By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK – Hundreds of Navajo families living on the Hopi Partitioned Lands are getting another chance at getting relocation benefits from the federal government.

For years, the federal government refused to listen to any case that fell outside of deadlines taking the position that the families had their chance.

But now, as talks continue to close the federal relocation office in September 2008, federal officials have agreed, after a series of negotiations with the Navajo-Hopi Legal Services Program, to give some families a second chance.

“What we are trying to do is tie of loose ends before the office is officially shut down,” said Mike McAllister, deputy director of the federal relocations office in Flagstaff.

What this means is that Navajo families who thought they were shut out of relocati8on benefits could be eligible for benefits that now range from $109,000 for a family of three or less and $117,000 for a family of four or more.

This may include some families that signed an accommodation agreement with the Hopi Tribe in 1997 that allowed them to stay on their homes in the HPL for the next 75 years.

These families had until March 31, 2000, to change their minds. In the past five years – after the deadline passed – between 30 and 40 families who opted to stay on the land changed their minds and filed a request with either the legal service program or the relocation commission to withdraw their signatures to the agreement and take the relocation benefits instead.

For example, the legal service program reported getting two new clients in recent weeks asking to be allowed to withdraw their signatures for health reasons.

“Both clients were elderly Navajo women who were concerned that remaining in homes without electricity and running water as they age would negatively affect them,” said a report that came out last week from the Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice.

The justice department said that there are talks between the Hopi Tribe and the relocation commission that would allow other Navajo families to withdraw their signatures and move out of the HLP with benefits if the Hopis would agree to allow families who had not signed the agreement to remain at their homes.

In some cases, said McAllister, the families who now want to withdraw their signatures had applied before the deadlines for relocation benefits and had been certified as being eligible. They then opted to sign the accommodation agreement instead.

Betsy Snow, director of the legal services program, said there are a group of 166 Navajo families who had filed an application before the original deadline and had been denied benefits.

But what these families didn’t realize is that they had the right to appeal that decision. But all of them failed to do so within the 60-day limit.

Now, in an effort to tie up loose ends, the relocation commission is reviewing the cases to determine why no appeal was filed, such as physical, mental, educational or language limitations.

In some cases, according to the justice department, the family may have failed to appeal because someone in the federal relocation office gave them “incomplete, misleading or confusing information.”

“We are targeting individuals who are elderly and speak little or no English,” The justice department report said.

Then there is yet another group of more than 200 families that filed late and the relocation commission has agreed to allow a federal magistrate to hear these cases on an individual basis.

Those hearings began this month and Snow said that they will continue (two Fridays a month) up until August 2007.

Both Snow and McAllister said they had no idea how many of the families will actually be allowed to apply for relocation benefits but it’s likely that a small percentage will be allowed.

When asked if the commission would have the funds to pay relocation benefits for these individuals, McAllister pointed out that his office gets an appropriation annually so that should be no problem.

The problem that the Navajo families may face is the possibility that the relocation office will be shut down before their benefits can be finalized. While there is no talk of extending the office’s closing dare, a bill now before Congress would turn over its duties to an existing program within the BIA.

That’s necessary said McAllister, because of circumstances beyond the control of the relocation commission.

For example, three of the individuals who have been certified as being eligible can’t acquire them. The reason is all three are currently serving time in jail.

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originally found in the hard copy of the Navajo Times, 27 April 2006

 

 

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posted 3 may 2006 by louve14