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116th Congress Legislative Final Update and Recap  


Fiscal Year 2021 Omnibus Passed

After months of negotiation and a few Continuing Resolutions, the Senate and House finally passed a bipartisan omnibus bill to fund the government through fiscal year 2021 on December 22, 2020, and was signed into law by President Trump on December 27, 2020. In addition to the $1.4 trillion omnibus spending package, Congress also included a $900 billion COVID-19 relief measure (more information included below).

Included in the omnibus as it relates to programs regularly accessed by Tribal Domestic Violence and Victim Service Programs are:

Victim of Crimes Act (VOCA)
$2.105 billion is the final amount for VOCA which is a small decrease from the fiscal year 2020 amount of $2.65 billion, this will decrease the amount of the total available for the tribal set aside slightly.

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
The bill includes slight increases over fiscal year 2020 that will increase budgets slightly for tribal programs accessing funds through the Office on Violence Against Women.

Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA)
The bill provides an increase of $182.5 million from $175 million in fiscal year 2020, and maintains an additional $7 million to increase the tribal set aside which will increase tribal awards slightly from Fiscal Year 2020.

Legislation Becomes Law*Artwork by Danielle Fixico

Savanna's Act and Not Invisible Act Become Law 

On October 10, 2020, President Donald Trump signed Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act into law, bills aiming to address the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis. Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act are a victory for tribes across the country.

Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act went to the President’s desk after both bills passed voice vote on September 21, 2020 in the House following passage in the Senate on March 11, 2020.

Savanna's Act
Originally introduced in 2017 by Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Savanna’s Act failed to pass the House during the 2016-2018 term. Champions for Native women in the House and Senate worked together across aisles and across chambers to reintroduce improved companion bills in both the House and Senate in 2019.

Savanna’s Act aims to improve the response to missing and murdered Native women by:

  • Improving tribal access to federal criminal information databases;
  • Requiring data collection on missing and murdered Native people; and
  • Directing the U.S. Attorneys to develop law enforcement and justice protocols to address missing persons.

Significant changes that NIWRC and other organizations have advocated for include:

  • Expand the requirement for the creation of law enforcement guidelines to all U.S. Attorneys, not just those with Indian Country jurisdiction, and require such guidelines to be regionally appropriate;
  • Require the Attorney General to publicly list the law enforcement agencies that comply with the provisions of the legislation (rather than list those that don’t comply); and
  • Replace the affirmative preference subsections with an implementation and incentive section that provides grant authority to law enforcement organizations to implement the provisions of the legislation and increases the amount of those grants for those that comply, while removing the preference provision in the original S. 277 that will punish Tribal Nations lacking sufficient resources to implement the guidelines their local U.S. Attorney creates. 

Not Invisible Act
The Not Invisible Act introduced in 2019 in both chambers aims at addressing the crisis of missing, murdered, and trafficked Native people by engaging law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, and service providers and improving coordination across federal agencies.

The Not Invisible Act will establish an advisory committee of local, tribal, and federal stakeholders to make recommendations to the Department of Interior and Department of Justice on best practices to combat the epidemic of disappearances, homicide, violent crime, and trafficking of Native Americans and Alaska Natives.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic Funding
Since our last update in September, negotiations on pandemic related relief stalled out until post the Thanksgiving holiday. Just as time wound down with negotiations on the omnibus spending package, a bipartisan agreement was struck and included the following stimulus provisions specific to Tribes:

  • Existing CRF Funds:
    • A 1-year extension to make eligible Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) expenses for state, local, and tribal governments from payments received as part of the CARES Act (no extra funding, no change in definition of eligible expenses)
  • Direct Payments:
    • $600 direct payment checks to individuals earning less than $75K a year and an additional $600 for each dependent child
    • *There is currently debate happening in Congress to increase the amount of direct payment checks to $2,000. This will need to pass both chambers and be signed by the President before January 3, 2020, to take effect prior to the end of this term.
  • Paycheck Protection Program:
    • Additional $284 billion for hardest hit businesses
    • Ability for small businesses to receive second round of funding
  • Unemployment Insurance:
    • $300 in enhanced unemployment insurance benefits through March 14, 2021
  • Health Funding:
    • $790 million for the Indian Health Service to support tribes with testing and tracing activities
    • $210 million to Indian Health Service to distribute vaccines directly to tribes
    • $125 million (minimum) set-aside under SAMHSA for mental/behavioral health
  • Broadband:
    • $1 billion Tribal broadband fund under Commerce at National Telecommunications and Information Administration
  • CDFIs:
    • $12 billion in funding for CDFIs with targeted support MDIs and CDFIs supporting low-income and minority communities
  • Agriculture/Nutrition:
    • $998,000 to the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
  • Rural Utilities Service:
    • $68 million for loans and grants for water and wastewater projects rural water supply and Federally recognized Indian tribes, and other entities
  • Rental Assistance and Housing:
    • Provide $25 billion in rental assistance to states and local governments
      • $800 million set aside for tribes and tribally designated housing entities
  • Education:
    • $818.8 million in education funding for outlying areas and the Bureau of Indian Education

Previously Passed COVID-19 Legislation

Please see below for a short summary on the packages that have been passed by Congress and signed by the President. Links to legislative text are also included for your reference.

On March 6, 2020, the President signed the first COVID-19 legislation, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act. The President has since signed two subsequent pieces of COVID-19 legislation, one on March 18, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the other, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, on March 27, 2020.

Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, H.R 6074

H.R. 6074 includes $950 million for grants and cooperative agreements to be administered through the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for state and local governments, tribal governments, tribal organizations, and urban Indian organizations. The funding is for public health preparedness and response activities, including epidemiology, lab capacity, infection control, communications, and other efforts. Of the $950 million, not less than $40 million was set aside specifically for tribal nations, tribal organizations, and urban Indian organizations. The CDC has since allocated $80 million dollars in funding to Indian Country and is now in the process of disbursing those funds.

Additionally, H.R. 6074 includes language authorizing the use of funds to reimburse federal agencies, such as Indian Health Service, in addition to tribal nations, tribal organizations, and urban Indian organizations that may have incurred costs related to coronavirus response and mitigation prior to the enactment of the supplemental funding package.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act, H.R. 6201

H.R. 6201 includes $64 million to be appropriated into the Indian Health Services Account. Additionally, it includes coverage of testing for COVID-19 at no cost-sharing to American Indians and Alaska Natives regardless of where services have been authorized. Lastly, $10 million was set aside for grants for Indian programs within the Older Americans Act (OAA).

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, H.R. 748

H.R. 748, the bipartisan CARES Act will ensure Indian Tribes, Tribally-owned businesses, and Native-owned businesses have equal access to federal Coronavirus response resources. It will give Tribes and their government-owned enterprises access to $8 billion in flexible funding to support Coronavirus response.

The CARES Act contains over $2 billion in emergency supplemental funding for federal programs that serve Indian Tribes, urban Indian health centers, and Native families including a $4.5 million tribal set-aside to the Family Violence Prevention and Services (FVPSA) program.

Legislation Addressing Violence Against Women Not Passed in 116th Congress
The 116th Congressional Term will end without the passage of the following proposed bills. This means that when the new 117th Congress begins, these proposed bills whether they are reauthorizations or completely new will need to be reintroduced.

Violence Against Women Act
Last reauthorized in 2013, the authorization for VAWA expired in 2018. On April 4, 2019, the House of Representatives passed a VAWA Reauthorization bill (H.R. 1585). This bipartisan bill was developed in partnership with national and tribal advocacy organizations. H.R. 1585 includes critical resources for tribes to implement VAWA and necessary lifesaving amendments to enhance tribal sovereignty and safety for Native women. H.R. 1585 is widely supported across Indian Country.

Bipartisan negotiations in the Senate unfortunately broke down and has resulted in two Senate Bills to reauthorize VAWA.

  • On November 13, 2019, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a companion Senate Bill (S.2843) to H.R. 1585 to reauthorize VAWA. This bill closely mirrors the language contained in the bipartisan, advocate supported H.R. 1585 and is inclusive of the important tribal provisions that tribal leaders and advocates strongly support.
  • On November 20, 2019, Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced S.2920 to reauthorize VAWA. Unfortunately, the provisions include in S.2920 would leave Native women less protected from violent offenders by destabilizing tribal courts and infringing on tribal sovereignty. This legislation, if enacted, would destabilize tribal justice systems by imposing undue burdens and restrictions on tribal courts far beyond those imposed on federal and state courts, including audits by the Attorney General and leaves Tribes vulnerable to lawsuits by defendants of tribal courts through the stripping of sovereign immunity. Ultimately, this bill would eliminate the gains made in VAWA 2013 and infringes on the inherent tribal authority of tribal nations to prosecute crimes committed against their citizens on tribal lands.

Family Violence Prevention and Services Act
The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) authorization expired in 2015. The FVPSA provides critical support for shelters, coalitions, training and technical assistance centers, children’s services, emergency response hotlines, and prevention initiatives. The FVPSA is the only federal grant program solely dedicated to domestic violence shelter and supportive services. It is the primary source of funding for these services for Indian tribes.
A coalition of national advocacy organizations worked closely with congressional staffers in both the House and Senate to draft an enhanced reauthorization of the FVPSA reflecting the diverse needs of domestic violence victims and priorities of Indian tribes and the domestic violence field. In July 2019, Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced S. 2259. In November, House Representatives Lucy McBath (D-GA), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Tom Cole (R-OK), and John Katko (R-NY) introduced a companion bill H.R. 5041. These bills, S. 2259 and H.R. 5041, would have expanded grant programs and made many needed improvements so that more survivors have access to support and safety including:

  • Increasing the overall funding authorization level to address very low per-program funding levels and provide access to FVPSA funds for more tribes and programs not currently funded.
  • Strengthening the capacity of Indian Tribes to exercise their sovereign authority to more fully respond to domestic violence in their communities by increasing the current 10% tribal allocation to 12.5% off the top of appropriations.
  • Authorizing recognition and meaningful funding for tribal coalitions to provide Indian tribes and tribal organizations with technical assistance and training on developing responses to domestic violence.
  • Authorizing recognition and permanent funding for the currently funded Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center.
  • Authorizing recognition and permanent funding for the currently funded StrongHearts Native Helpline to serve as the national Indian domestic violence hotline.

On December 12, 2019, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed S.2971 a package of legislation inclusive of a bill to reauthorize FVPSA. S.2971 fell short on the tribal enhancements included in S.2259 and H.R. 5041.

Bridging Agency Data Gaps and Ensuring Safety Act 
Introduced in both the Senate (S.1853) and the House (H.R. 4289), the Bridging Agency Data Gaps and Ensuring Safety Act (BADGES) aimed to improve law enforcement recruitment, Tribal access to federal criminal databases, and coordination between federal, state, Tribal, and local law enforcement agencies by:

  • Addressing inefficiencies in federal criminal databases;
  • Increasing Tribal access to federal criminal databases;
  • Improving public data on missing and murdered Indigenous women cases and Indian Country law enforcement staffing levels.
  • Promoting more efficient recruitment and retention of BIA law enforcement;
  • Providing Tribes with resources to improve public safety coordination between their governments, States, and federal agencies; and·
  • Mitigating against federal law enforcement personnel mishandling evidence crucial to securing conviction of violent offenders. 

Finding and Investigating Native Disappearance Act
Introduced in the Senate, the Finding and Investigation Native Disappearance Act (FIND Act) (S.1893) aimed to require the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a study on ways to increase reporting of missing Indians and the effects of the use of methamphetamine and other illegal drugs on violent crime in Tribal communities, and for other purposes.
Tribal Reporting and Accountability to Congress Act
Introduced in the Senate, the Tribal Reporting and Accountability to Congress Act (TRAC Act) (S.1892) aimed to amend the Indian Law Enforcement Reform Act to require each tribal liaison within the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to submit to Congress an annual report on missing and murdered Indians.
Native Youth & Tribal Officer Protection Act
Introduced in both the Senate (S.290) and the House (H.R. 958), the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act (NYTOPA) aimed to reaffirm tribal criminal jurisdiction over some crimes committed by non-Indians including: child abuse and crimes that are committed against certain public safety & justice officials.
Justice for Native Survivors Act
Introduced in the Senate (S.288) aimed to reaffirm tribal criminal jurisdiction over some crimes committed by non-Indians including sexual assault, stalking, and trafficking.
Introduced and passed out of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the bipartisan Survive Act (S.211) would have directed that five percent of the total annual outlays from the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) be provided to Indian tribes to provide crime victim services. Since Fiscal Year 2018, Congress has appropriated 5% of the CVF for a tribal set aside, S.211 would have made the authorization of the appropriation permanent.
Alaska Tribal Public Safety Empowerment Act
Introduced in the Senate, the Alaska Tribal Public Safety Empowerment Act (S.2616) aimed to expand the jurisdiction provided in the Violence Against Women Act of 2013 (VAWA) to apply to Alaska Native villages on a pilot basis. This bill would have also expanded covered crimes to include crimes of sexual violence, sex trafficking, stalking, and assault of law enforcement or corrections officers.

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