COVID-19 Legislative Update: House Passes COVID III Economic Relief Legislation (CARES Act)

House Passes COVID III Economic Relief Legislation

CARES Act Heads to President’s Desk

Today, the House passed the $2 trillion stimulus package, known as the CARES Act. The House approved the measure by voice vote, after leaders in both parties deflected an effort by Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY), to force recorded vote requiring lawmakers to register their positions individually. It now heads to President Trump’s desk, where he is expected to sign it.

Reps. Gallego (D-AZ), Haaland (D-NM), Joyce (R-OH), Cole (R-OK), Torres (D-CA), Kildee (D-MI), and Reed (R-NY) worked with House leadership to enter the attached colloquy into the Congressional record. The colloquy supports a flexible interpretation of the legislation and economic stimulus to benefit tribal nations and will be helpful in upcoming discussions on implementation with the Administration.

COVID-19 Legislative Update: Senate Unanimously Approves the CARES Act

Senate Unanimously Approves the CARE bill

(COVID III Legislation)

Late last night, by a vote of 96-0, the Senate approved S.3548, the CARES Act. The $2 trillion relief package provides an infusion of funding for the health care industry and alleviates some of the growing economic impacts resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Regarding economic impacts, the bill authorizes direct payments to Americans, aggressively expands unemployment insurance, and appropriates billions of dollars in aid to large and small businesses, as well as tribal, state, and local governments.

The coordinated advocacy from across Indian country resulted in significant wins for tribes. Importantly, the legislation establishes an $8 billion relief fund at the Department of Treasury for Tribal governments and Tribally government-owned entities to use for expenditures incurred due to the COVID-19 public health emergency in the face of revenue declines. The Treasury Secretary, in consultation with Interior, has 30 days to develop a funding distribution model based on the provision — and “in such a manner … to ensure that” the $8 billion fund is distributed to Tribal governments in FY20. The bill does not specify if lost revenue is a reimbursable expense. Indian Country must immediately begin outreach to Treasury and Interior to ensure that the relief fund is distributed to tribal governments quickly and fairly.

Other notable provisions include:

  • Making Tribes eligible for the Small Business Act Section 7(a) Paycheck Protection Program, which will provide 100% federal loan guarantees up to $10 million to cover costs like employee salaries, paid sick leave/medical leave, mortgages/rents, and employee health insurance premiums;
  • Reimbursing Indian tribes for one-half of incurred unemployment benefit costs through December 31, 2020;
  • Providing $1.032 billion in critically needed resources to support the tribal health system during the pandemic, including expanded support for medical services, equipment, supplies and public health education for IHS direct service, tribally operated and urban Indian health care facilities; expanded funding for purchased/referred care; and new investments for telehealth services, electronic health records improvement, and expanded disease surveillance by tribal epidemiology centers;
  • Providing $69 million for response needs at BIE-funded schools, including staffing, transportation, telework, and cleaning activities and assistance for tribal colleges and universities across the country to help respond to the crisis;
  • Providing $100 million to the program that provides USDA commodity foods to low-income households, including the elderly, living on Indian reservations;
  • Providing $20 million for the delivery of nutrition services to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiian elders; and
  • Providing between $70-96 million for Indian child care programs that serve low-income families to help defray the costs of COVID-19 response, including for continued payments to child care providers during center closures and to provide emergency child care for health care workers, emergency responders, and other COVID-19 “front line” workers.

The House plans to vote on the measure Friday morning at 9:00 AM by voice vote. There will be time set aside for floor debate, but the House is building in contingencies for Members who cannot travel back to Washington, D.C., because of health concerns.

COVID-19 Legislative Update: Senate Reaches Agreement on COVID III Relief Bill

Senate Reaches Agreement on COVID III Relief Bill

Will Provide $2T in Economic Relief

Late last night, Senate Republicans, Democrats, and the White House reached a deal on the third piece of legislation aimed at blunting the economic impact of COVID-19.

The massive legislation came together around 1:00 AM after 5-days of marathon negotiations between Senators and the White House. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed that the Senate would pass the bill later today, while House leaders are eyeing an expedited process to get the massive emergency package to President Trump’s desk for signature before the end of the week.

In big news for Indian country, the Senate bill creates a dedicated $8 billion set aside for Tribes in the “Temporary Fiscal Relief for States and Localities” fund. That is separate from the $500 billion “Economic Stabilization Fund” of guaranteed loans, which tribes will also be able to access. Other provisions to strengthen response capacity and support for tribal communities include:

  • $1.03 billion to the Indian Health Service to support the tribal health care system and its response efforts;
  • $100 million more for the USDA Food Distribution Program for Indian Reservations;
  • $453 million to assist tribes through the Bureau of Indian Affairs;
  • $69 million to help tribal schools, colleges, and universities through for the Bureau of Indian Education; and
  • $300 million more to the HUD Indian Housing Block Grant program.

The package also includes provisions that allow workers to get unemployment insurance quickly and would allow furloughed workers to stay on as employees for the duration of the crisis so that they can quickly resume work when business operations resume. Direct payments will also go out to individuals and families to help address basic needs during the crisis.

A centerpiece of the package is a $150 billion Marshall Plan for the nation’s health care system to ensure hospitals and health care workers can provide needed treatment and turn the tide against the pandemic. Additional health care investments include:

  • Funding for personal and protective equipment for health care workers;
  • Funding for testing supplies, increased workforce and training, new building construction to house patients;
  • An increase of the Strategic National Stockpile;
  • Funding for medical research into COVID-19; and
  • Medicare payment increases to all hospitals and providers to ensure that they receive the funding they need during this crisis.

COVID-19 Legislative Update: House Releases COVID III Relief Bill

House Releases COVID III Relief Bill

The Take Responsibility for Workers & Families Act

This evening, House Democrats released their version of their Phase III COVID-19 economic relief legislation. The approximately $2.5 trillion bill addresses the impacts of the crisis on families, businesses, and communities by rebuilding the health care system, tightening the safety net to support families, shore up small businesses, and help governments maintain public services.

Some highlights of the bill include:

  • More than $150 billion to support America’s hospitals, Community Health Centers, and government medical programs as they treat coronavirus patients. This includes $15 million for tribes, tribal organizations, urban Indian health organizations, or health service providers to tribes.
  • Extending eligibility for the CDC’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) program to Tribes.
  • $200 billion to states, territories, and tribes to cover revenue lost because of coronavirus. The funding will be provided in two tranches, with the first tranche immediate and the second to follow based on unemployment rates or on July 1, whichever trigger is hit first. Of the funding in the first tranche, $10 billion is set aside for tribes, $1 billion for territories, and $2.5 billion for small states.
  • Child care assistance to health care workers and emergency personnel.
  • A direct cash infusion of $1,500 of immediate assistance per individual, up to $7,500 for a family of five. This benefit would be available to anyone with an individual taxpayer identification number, as well as to our nation’s retirees and unemployed individuals.
  • $350 million to address the needs of Indian tribes and tribally designated housing entities in preventing, responding to, and preparing for coronavirus. This includes $250 million in formula funding through the Native American Housing Block Grants program and $100 million in imminent threat grants through the Indian Community Development Block Grant program.
  • Enhanced unemployment compensation by creating a temporary Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation of $600 a week for any worker affected by COVID-19 and eligible for unemployment compensation benefits.
  • Expanded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs benefits, helping to ensure that families will be able to afford to eat during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Streamlined aid for small businesses and provides more than $500 billion in grants and interest-free loans, some with forgivable components, to help Main Street businesses as they cope with the economic disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 Legislative Update: Senate COVID III Bill Fails to Reach 60 Votes

Senate COVID III Bill Fails to Reach 60 Votes

The Senate failed to clear a key procedural hurdle on a $1.6 trillion emergency rescue package (Corona III) to address the ongoing crisis after enough Democrats denied the GOP the 60 votes needed to move forward. The vote’s imminent failure puts renewed pressure on Republicans and Democrats to come to a deal before Monday morning, for fear that congressional gridlock will further tank financial markets. Among the sticking points remaining are provisions for corporations getting federal assistance, including policy on stock buybacks and executive pay, and protections for individuals facing eviction. Democrats specifically cited that the bill doesn’t do enough to protect workers from layoffs, gives the Treasury too much power to make its own decisions, and doesn’t provide any money for state and local governments, among other complaints.

Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will now have to go back to the negotiating table with Democratic leaders and the White House to reach a deal that can win enough Democratic votes to pass.

COVID-19 Legislative Update: Recap of Relief Legislation

COVID-19 Legislative Update: Recap of Relief Legislation

There has been a lot of news coverage on the Congressional/Administrative response to COVID-19, so please see below for a quick summary of what has been passed and what is currently being negotiated.

Coronavirus I – HR 6074

  • Became law on 3/6/20
  • This legislation focused on getting funding to help the health care field address the crisis.
  • Provides $8.3 billion in all new funding for a robust response to the coronavirus, including support for state and local health agencies, vaccine and treatment development, and loans for affected small businesses to lessen the economic blow of this public health emergency.

Coronavirus II – HR 6201 (Families First Coronavirus Response Act)

  • Became law on 3/18/20
  • The $104 billion bill guarantees free coronavirus testing, provides paid leave; and strengthens food security initiatives through additional investments in WIC, food banks, and seniors nutrition. The bill also makes sure that children who depend on free and reduced-priced meals have access to food during school and child care closures.

Coronavirus III – Currently being negotiated

  • Will focus on stimulating the economy.
  • Could be introduced as soon as today.

Coronavirus IV – Currently being negotiated

  • Another economic stimulus bill that could cover areas not covered in Corona III/other issues that arise as the virus spreads.
  • Could reach up to $1 trillion in funding, including direct payments to individual Americans and bailouts for specific industries.

Congress Working to Pass Coronavirus Relief Legislation

Congress Working to Pass Coronavirus Relief Legislation

Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have closed in on a deal for a coronavirus stimulus package. Pelosi has said her priorities for the package include:

  • Free coronavirus testing for everyone who needs a test,
  • Paid emergency leave,
  • Enhanced Unemployment Insurance,
  • Strengthened food security initiatives, and
  • Increased federal funds for Medicaid

Democrats had hoped to bring the bill to the House floor yesterday, but objections by Republicans and the Administration sent everyone back to the bargaining table. The main sticking points were over provisions that Democrats wanted to make permanent, including a new permanent sick-leave mandate for U.S. employers.

The final agreement seems to include a less ambitious provision that would expand the number of workers who can take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act while drawing down wage replacement. Employees would get two-thirds of their salary replaced (up to $4,000 a month), and the federal government would reimburse employers. Separately, employees would also be able to take 14 days of paid sick leave, with the government reimbursing employers for part of the cost.

Assuming a package passes today, the Senate will take up the measure next week. The House plans to work on another emergency response bill that will Pelosi has said will “take further effective action that protects the health, economic security, and well-being of the American people.”

Interior Solicitor Withdraws Obama M-Opinion on “Under Federal Jurisdiction”

Interior Solicitor Withdraws Obama M-Opinion on “Under Federal Jurisdiction”

On March 10, the Interior Department’s Office of the Solicitor issued a short opinion withdrawing the Obama Administration’s 2014 M-Opinion (M-37029) (“Meaning of ‘Under Federal Jurisdiction’ for Purpose of the IRA”). The 2014 M-Opinion established a procedure for the Interior Department to follow, enabling the BIA to continue to transfer fee land into tribal trust pursuant to the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2009 Carcieri v. Salazar decision. Below is a portion of the new opinion, signed by Interior Solicitor Daniel Jorjani:

“To remove such uncertainties and to assist tribes in assessing eligibility, in 2018, the Solicitor’s Office began a review of Sol. Op. M-37029’s two-part procedure for determining eligibility under Category I, and the interpretation on which it relied. This review has led me to conclude that Sol. Op. M-37029’s interpretation of Category I is not consistent with the ordinary meaning, statutory context, legislative history, or contemporary administrative understanding of the phrase ‘recognized Indian tribe now under federal jurisdiction.’ Therefore, I hereby withdraw Sol. Op. M-37029.

“Concurrent with this Opinion, I am issuing procedures under separate cover to guide Solicitor’s Office attomeys in determining the eligibility of applicant tribes under Category l. This guidance derives from an interpretation of Category I that better reflects Congress’ and the Department’s understanding in 1934 of the phrase ‘recognized Indian tribe now under federal jurisdiction.'”

The new procedure and underlying memo recommending the changes can be found here https://www.bia.gov/bia/ots/fee-to-trust/fee-to-trust-decisions