Tribes in Wisconsin

Senator Baldwin worked to pass the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help provide immediate support for Tribes in Wisconsin. The CARES Act bipartisan compromise agreement ensures Indian Tribes, Tribally-owned businesses, and Native owned businesses have equal access to federal COVID-19 economic recovery resources.  It will give Tribes and Tribally-owned enterprises access to $8 billion in flexible funding to support COVID-19 response.  And it will help ensure Tribes and Tribally-owned businesses have the resources they need to cover the costs of employee payroll and unemployment insurance costs.

Additionally, the CARES Act bipartisan compromise agreement contains over $2 billion in emergency supplemental funding for federal programs that serve Indian Tribes, Urban Indian health centers, and Native communities.  This funding will ensure important Indian health, public safety, child welfare, and safety-net programs can continue operations despite increased strain caused by the COVID-19 public health crisis.

We are all in this together, and Senator Baldwin will continue her work across party lines to take additional steps to support Tribes and help our Tribal communities to get through this public health crisis, stabilize our economy, and help us all move forward.

Summary: What is included in the bipartisan CARES Act to support Tribes?

FAQs: The CARES Act and Tribes, Tribal Organizations and Tribal Enterprises


Summary: What is included in the bipartisan CARES Act to support Tribes?

Coronavirus Relief Fund

Establishes an $8 billion relief fund at the Department of Treasury for Tribal governments and Tribally-owned entities of those governments to use for expenditures incurred due to the COVID-19 public health emergency in the face of revenue declines.  The Treasury Secretary is required to develop a funding distribution model for this fund based on identified need and in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior and Indian Tribes.  

Tribal Business Concerns

Makes 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.

Unemployment Insurance

Allows Indian tribes to be reimbursed for half their incurred unemployment benefit costs through December 31, 2020.

Federal Education Waivers

Authorizes the Department of Education to waive provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, except civil rights laws, that are necessary and appropriate due to the COVID-19 declaration of disaster for all BIE schools, including Tribal 638 contract schools and Tribal 297 grant schools.

Special Diabetes Program for Indians

Extends the SDPI mandatory authorization at FY2020 levels (i.e., $150 million per year) through November, 2020.

Indian Health Service (IHS)

Provides $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.

Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)

Includes $453 million to provide aid to tribal governments; support welfare assistance and social service programs, including assistance to tribal members affected by the coronavirus crisis; expand public safety and emergency response capabilities; increase BIA capacity for teleworking so the agency is better prepared to assist tribes; and meet increased staffing and overtime costs.

Bureau of Indian Education (BIE)

Provides $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.

HUD Office of Native American Programs

Provides $200 million for the Native American House Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHADSA) Block Grant program with a formula designed to assist Tribally Designated Housing Entities most in need of funding related to COVID-19 response. And $100 million to the Indian Community Development Block Grant to respond to COVID-19 in tribal communities.

Food Distribution Program for Indian Reservations

Provides $100 million to the program that provides USDA commodity foods to low-income households, including the elderly, living on Indian reservations.

Older Americans Act Tribal Nutrition

Provides $20 million for the delivery of nutrition services to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiian elders.

Indian Child Care Development Block Grant

Provides 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.

FAQs: The CARES Act and Tribes, Tribal Organizations and Tribal Enterprises

How can Tribes apply for the Coronavirus Relief fund?  Are there limitations?

Once enacted, the Treasury Secretary will consult with the Interior Secretary and Tribes to develop the specific method for applying for and distributing the $8 billion reserved for Indian Tribes and Tribal enterprises in the Coronavirus Relief Fund. 

Senator Baldwin has called on the Treasury Secretary and the Interior Secretary to ensure an equitable distribution of the fund for Wisconsin Tribes that is based on actual economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

How will the $2+ billion emergency supplemental funding for federal Indian programs be distributed?  Will it be competitive? 

Distribution will be conducted on a case-by-case basis for each federal Department.  Some Departments may opt to utilize existing funding streams, but Congress’s intent is that all Departments engage in direct consultation with Tribes on how to distribute these emergency supplemental funds.  Congress will also conduct strong oversight to ensure the distribution process for CARES Act funds will be smoother and more efficient than Tribes and urban Indian health centers reportedly experienced under previous COVID-19 packages.

My Tribal government closed its businesses due to the virus.  What relief is available to recoup employee salaries and other expenses?

Congress made Tribal businesses eligible for increased government loan guarantees under 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 health insurance premiums.

What about gaming?

Against congressional intent, SBA and Treasury have put out guidance making tribal casinos ineligible for the Paycheck Protection Program. Senator Baldwin and her colleagues have called on the Administration to clarify that all Tribal businesses under 500 employees, including gaming enterprises, are eligible for the relief.

Instead of paying traditional unemployment insurance premiums, my Tribe/Tribal business opts to pay a dollar-for-dollar reimbursement to State unemployment programs for any unemployment costs incurred by former Tribal employees.  Will my Tribe/Tribal business be eligible for the CARES Act unemployment insurance reimbursements?

Yes.  Through the Emergency Unemployment Relief for Governmental Entities and Nonprofit Organizations provision, the CARES Act reduces the amount Indian Tribes and their Tribally-owned business entities are required to reimburse states for benefits paid to their workers who claim unemployment insurance by 50 percent through December 31, 2020.  Tribes and Tribal businesses that incur additional unemployment insurance costs in 2020 are also eligible to make a claim for reimbursement through the Tribal Coronavirus Relief Fund. 

Are all Bureau of Indian Education schools, including Tribally operated 638 contract and 297 grant schools, eligible to receive waivers for federal education law requirements that will be difficult/impossible to comply with due to COVID-19 related school closures (e.g., annual testing and reporting requirements)? 

The CARES Act gives the Department of Education the authority to grant BIE schools and Indian Tribes waivers of certain federal education laws under Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), and the Higher Education Act (HEA). To ensure all students’ rights are protected while schools have the flexibility they need under the COVID-19 crisis, Congress authorized these waivers to cover a range of topics (e.g., annual testing, reporting, and annual funding use limitations) but prohibited universal exemptions for all federal education laws.  As such, Tribes are encouraged to check Department of Education websites and communications over the coming days for specific lists of federal statutory provisions that are eligible for waivers.  To design the application process for waivers under this authority, the Secretary of Education will create a streamlined waiver applications process for this academic year only. 

The IHS health clinics serving my Tribe are dangerously low on personal protective equipment and other medical supplies.  Does the CARES Act provide any resources to help us make sure our health workers have the supplies they need?

Yes.  The CARES Act will provide Indian Tribes and the IHS with $15 million in emergency supplemental funding through the Public Health and Social Service Emergency Fund to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies.  Additionally, the CARES Act provides the IHS with over $1 billion in flexible emergency supplemental funding that can be used for procurement of PPE and other medical supplies, including health IT for public health data surveillance.  IHS will work with Tribes and urban Indian health centers over the coming days to determine how these funds will be distributed.

Many of my Tribal Members enrolled in school are being asked to complete class work online, but Internet access is very limited on my reservation and many families can’t afford the computer equipment needed for online distance learning.  Are there resources to help address this learning gap for Native students?

The CARES Act includes $25 million for Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) Program, administered by the Rural Utility Service.  Funding goes toward initial capital assets for equipment (e.g., video conferencing equipment, computers) that operate via telecommunications to rural end-users of telemedicine and distance learning. Broadband facilities (if owned by the applicant) are also eligible. Federally recognized tribes are eligible to apply for DLT grants. Approved purposes can be found at 7 CFR part 1734.31, which can be found here

The CARES Act also includes $100 million for the Re-connect program (Broadband Loan and Grant Program), which offers loans and grants to build infrastructure and install equipment that provides modern, reliable, high-speed Internet service in rural America. The ReConnect program offers three products: 100% Loans, 50% Loan-50% Grant combinations, and 100% Grants.  To be eligible, at least 90% of the households to be served by a project receiving a loan or grant under the pilot program must be in a rural area without sufficient access to fixed broadband at a minimum speed of 10 Mbps/1 Mbps. Wireless and satellite is not eligible. Additional information about the Re-connect program can be found here

Finally, the CARES Act includes flexible direct support through the Departments of Education and the Interior for BIE-funded schools (i.e., federally-operated, Tribal 638 contract, and Tribal 297 grant) as well as Tribal Colleges and Universities to address needs such as student IT. Specifically, the CARES Act will provide $69 million to BIE at the Department of Interior to address the needs of Tribal K-12 and higher education schools.  Tribes should reach out to the BIE to receive guidance on how these funds will be distributed.  Congress also provided $30.75 billion to establish an Education Stabilization Fund that BIE-funded schools and Tribal Colleges and Universities will qualify for.  Tribes should reach out to the Department of Education for guidance on how and when these funds will be distributed.

Are there any additional health resources for Indian Tribes and urban Indian health clinics outside of the IHS in the CARES Act?

Yes.  In addition to the $1+ billion in emergency supplemental funding for IHS in the CARES Act, Indian Tribes will receive health-specific resources from HRSA, CDC, SAMHSA, and the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund.  Specifically, Indian health entities will receive: 

    • $15 million for telehealth/rural health COVID-19 activities emergency supplemental funding at the HRSA; 
    • $15 million in emergency supplemental funding at SAMHSA;
    • $15 million in emergency supplemental funding reserved for Indian health entities under the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund; and
    • $120 million in emergency supplemental funding reserved for Indian health entities at the CDC.

Are urban Indian health centers eligible for any CARES Act resources?

Yes.  Urban Indian health centers are eligible for funding through the $1+ billion in emergency supplemental funding for IHS in the CARES Act; the $15 million for telehealth/rural health COVID-19 activities emergency supplemental funding at the HRSA; the $15 million in emergency supplemental funding at SAMHSA; the $15 million in  in emergency supplemental funding reserved for Indian health entities under the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund; and the $120 million in emergency supplemental funding reserved for Indian health entities at the CDC.

My Tribe needs to set up COVID-19 response child care coverage to help the families of health care workers, emergency personnel, and other “front line” workers. Will the CARES Act help with this?

Yes.  The CARES Act provides Tribes with two options to address this concern. First, Tribes can opt to receive reimbursement for any of these expenses through the $8 billion Tribal Coronavirus Relief Fund operated by the Department of Treasury.  Second, Tribes that operate child care centers through the Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Child Care Development Block Grant Program will receive a portion of the emergency supplemental funding appropriated by Congress for this program.


Additional Resources

For general information and resources about coronavirus for Wisconsinites, please click here.

For information and resources about coronavirus for Wisconsin small businesses, please click here.

For a section by section summary of the bipartisan CARES Actplease click here.


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