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What the CARES Act Means for Tribal Governments

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With the passage of the CARES Act, which provides $150 billion for state, local and tribal governments under Title V (the Coronavirus Relief Fund) local governments will be able to start addressing short-term needs of residents, households, and small businesses bearing some of the largest burden of COVID-19 response.

As tribal nations are especially at risk of not only being overwhelmed in their health organizations and systems, but even potentially being “wiped out” in some areas, it’s critical that leaders prepare for the funding that’s coming their way. With that being said, what does the funding under the CARES Act look like for tribal governments who are especially vulnerable to being overwhelmed by the health and economic impacts of the pandemic?

Title V: What the Coronavirus Relief Fund Entails

What we do know is that the CARES Act does provide direct relief for Indian Country to address the pandemic, including $500 million in direct appropriations to Indian Affairs and $8 billion for tribes. 

Across the board for state, local, and tribal governments, Title V of the CARES Act states: 

  • Out of any money in the Treasury of the United States not otherwise appropriated, there are appropriations for making payments to states, tribal governments, and units of local government under this section, $150,000,000,000 for fiscal year 2020.
  • $139,000,000,000 for states
    • Counties and cities with populations over 500,000 will be eligible to receive direct funding from the Coronavirus Relief Fund.
    • Counties and cities with populations under 500,000 will not be eligible to receive direct funding from Coronavirus Relief Fund.
    • These funds will go to the state. Counties and cities will need to work with their states regarding funding.
  • $3,000,000,000 for territories
    • The Secretary of Treasury will determine the amount to each territory based on population.
  • $8,000,000,000 for tribes
    • The Secretary of Treasury will consult with the Secretary of the Interior to arrive at an amount for each tribe.

The above only refers to the funding under Title V of the Coronavirus Relief Fund to states, local governments, tribes, and territories. 

Tribal Provisions Under the CARES Act

To break it down further for tribal governments specifically, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) summarizes coronavirus relief funding into the following primary tribal provisions.  

Economic Development & Employment

  • $454 billion for loans, loan guarantees, and investments in support of the Federal Reserve’s lending facilities to eligible businesses, states, tribal nations, and municipalities. 
  • $8 billion for tribal nations from the Coronavirus Relief Fund for expenditures related to the COVID-19 public health emergency .
  • Tribal business concerns are now eligible for the Small Business Act Section 7(a) program, that will provide 100 percent federal loan guarantees of up to $10 million to cover costs like employee salaries, paid sick or medical leave, mortgages and rents, etc.
  • The federal government is authorized to provide a 50 percent reimbursement for the cost of unemployment compensation to tribal nations that are reimbursement-option employers.

Tribal Governance & Housing/Community Development

  • $453 million for Indian Affairs Operation of Indian Programs until September 30, 2021. 
  • $300 million authorized through September 30, 2024 for Department of Housing and Urban Development Native American Programs.
    • $200 million for the Indian Housing Block Grants (IHBG) formula
    • $100 million for Indian Community Development Block Grants (ICDBG)


  • $1.032 billion for Indian Health Services (IHS)
    • Out of that amount, up to $65 million is for electronic health record stabilization and support.
    • Not less than $450 million will be distributed through IHS directly operated programs and to tribes and tribal organizations under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, and through contracts with or grants to urban Indian organizations under Title V of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act
    • $125 million may be transferred to and merged with the “Indian Health Service, Indian Health Facilities” account.


  • $69 million for Operation of Indian Education Programs until September 30, 2021.
  • $78,000 for the Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Culture and Arts Development
  • $153.75 million set aside for programs operated or funded by the Bureau of Indian Education (under the Education Stabilization Fund).
  • $1.046 billion for Minority Serving Institutions, which include but are not limited to, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions, and Native American Serving Non-tribal Institutions (Under the Education Stabilization Fund).

Preparing Tribes for COVID-19

Needless to say, the $8 billion provided specifically to tribes under the CARES Act is historic, to say the least. This is the largest amount of funds ever designated for tribal governments, even larger than the landmark Cobell land settlement. That being said, tribal communities must be amply prepared to receive and implement this funding as quickly and seamlessly as possible.

Speaking to the pandemic, NCAI CEO, Kevin Allis recently said that “the work is not done for us” as the intertribal organization is building a strategy “that will ensure that everything Congress intended in this legislation is properly implemented and distributed out to Indian Country.”


Learn how we can help you navigate incoming funding by heading to our COVID-19 Resource Hub

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