Congress to Pass COVID-3 CARES Act: Establishes Tribal Coronavirus Relief Fund

Late last night, the Senate finalized negotiations for the third COVID-19 relief package (the CARES Act), passing the measure unanimously with a final vote of 96-0. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to approve the CARES Act by voice vote tomorrow morning. The $2 trillion relief package provides an infusion of funding to address the immediate public health emergency facing all communities nationwide. It also provides significant funding to alleviate the growing economic impacts resulting from the coronavirus pandemic on individuals and families, businesses, as well as tribal, state, and local governments. Attached below is a more detailed summary of the provisions that target the immediate health needs of Native communities, and the growing economic concerns facing all tribal governments.

One centerpiece of the package for Indian Country is the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CVF). The CARES Act establishes a $150 billion CVF for tribal, state, local and territorial governments to help address the added stress on government budgets. The tribal portion of the fund is $8 billion (5.33%). While NIGA and other Indian Organizations had pushed for a far larger amount, this set-aside for Tribal governments is historic recognition of the governmental status of Indian tribes. However, the program as written will provide both opportunities and challenges for tribes to fully utilize the fund to address tribal government-owned operation closures.

CVF “Payment amounts” to Tribal Governments shall be based on “increased expenditures” of tribes and tribal government-owned entities (relative to 2019 tribal budgets). The Treasury Secretary, in consultation with Interior, and Indian tribes, will have 30 days (approximately April 27, 2020) to develop the funding model. While Treasury has wide discretion, it must develop a model “appropriate to ensure that all amounts available [$8 billion] are distributed to tribal governments” in FY20 (by Sept. 30, 2020).

The National Indian Gaming Association will assist Tribes with model comments and examples of how Tribal Governments may structure their programs to apply under the CVF relief fund.

The “use of funds” provision states that CVF payments to tribal, state and local government can cover only those costs that: (1) are necessary expenditures due to COVID-19; (2) were not accounted for in the most recently approved tribal government budget; and (3) were incurred between March 1 – December 30, 2020.

As a result, we urge all of our Member Tribes to call on the Trump Administration for immediate consultations with the Treasury and Interior to take steps to develop a model that is flexible, fair, and will help address the impacts of tribal government-owned operation closures—which have reduced tribal government incoming revenue to zero for the duration of these closures.

The next scheduled in-person meeting for the Treasury Tribal Advisory Committee (TTAC) was set for March 31st. Work is underway to keep the meeting and move it to a on-line format. We will keep you informed as details are confirmed.

We want to extend our sincerest gratitude to all of our Member Tribes and Congressional offices for the tireless work to provide critical resources for Indian Country to combat this pandemic. We will provide a model letter for Member Tribes to thank their Congressional Representatives and the hard working staff in their offices.

If you have any questions regarding this alert please contact Danielle Her Many Horses at or by phone at (202) 255-6073.