Washington, D.C. Update: Last Chance for a Covid-19 Relief Package in 2020

Dec 18, 2020 | Insights

While Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remain far apart on Covid-19 relief — Pelosi wanted a broad $2 to $3 trillion package and McConnell wanted $500 billion in targeted relief — both agreed that Congress will stay in session before Christmas until they can reach an agreement. Both sides say that they are making progress, but difficult details remain. Talks are currently expected to last into the weekend.

Since early December, Covid-19 relief negotiations focused on a bipartisan bill put forward by a handful of moderate members from the House and Senate. The Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020 was originally a $900 billion package; this included $160 billion in additional funds for the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), providing payments to tribal, state, and local governments. For tribal governments, CRF payments have been a lifeline, providing essential services and maintaining government operations.

Unfortunately, additional CRF payments were controversial for many Republican senators who believe that the payments are a slush fund for badly managed state and local governments. Too controversial for Democrats were McConnell’s liability protections for businesses reopening during the pandemic. These “controversial” provisions were broken off into a Part II bill, which is unlikely to get a vote in Congress.

The Part II bill also included new language that would expand CRF payments to tribal entities.  CRF payments were originally intended for federally recognized Indian tribes, providing essential governmental services to their members. The new language would dimmish the funds available to tribal governments, and likely would result in new rounds of litigation over which tribal entities could get funding.

While CARES Act CRF payments to tribes are getting hung up in D.C. politics, the rest of the Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020, or the Part I bill, continues to make progress as details are negotiated. Part I includes other funding needed by tribes and tribal members, including:

  • $600 stimulus checks to individuals
  • $300 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
  • $12 billion for community lenders
  • $129 million for tribal vaccine distribution
  • $350 million for tribal contact tracing
  • $1 billion for tribal heath care providers
  • $410 million for the Bureau of Indian Education 
  • rental assistance
  • support for rural broadband
  • additional funding for SNAP

The final Covid-19 relief package is expected to be combined with an Omnibus Appropriations Bill covering the rest of FY 2021. As negotiations have dragged on, Congress was forced to pass a one-week Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the federal government open. Another CR that covers a few more days may be needed, while some in Congress are warning that the government may shut down as negotiations are completed.