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

March 26th, 2020

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.

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