On March 18, 2020, the President signed into law congressional legislation responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “Act”) is a broad federal package that includes additional funding for federal programs and other types of federal assistance to help alleviate the strain of this health emergency on the public. The following is a summary of the benefits of the Act that are available to tribal governments.
The Act provides an additional $64 million to the Indian Health Service for COVID-19 related healthcare, including free testing for the virus. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will provide an additional $80 million in funding to tribes, tribal organizations, and Urban Indian Organizations to support tribal COVID-19 responses. More information about the funds available from the CDC can be found here.
The Act temporarily expands the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to provide paid leave for employees who are unable to work due to the closure of schools and child care facilities, and provides temporary sick leave for COVID-19 related absences. Although tribal governments are not subject to FMLA, many tribes have either adopted the federal FMLA standard or have adopted tribal laws and policies similar to FMLA. More information about the expansion of FMLA can be found on our COVID-19 resource page.
The Act allocates approximately $250 million in additional funding to the Senior Nutrition Program, which provides home-delivered and pre-packaged meals to low-income seniors. Tribes can access this additional funding to provide meals to elders in the community.
The Act provides a payroll tax credit equal to 100 percent of the qualified sick leave wages paid by an employer. Tribal governments pay all federal employment taxes, including Social Security, Medicare, and federal unemployment taxes. However, tribal governments are not subject to federal income taxation and generally do not file federal tax returns, which is the main vehicle for claiming the newly enacted payroll tax credit. It remains to be seen if there will be a way for tribes to claim this newly enacted payroll tax credit without having to file a federal tax return.
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