Mark Trahant
Indian Country Today

President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday the American Rescue Plan — a $1.9 trillion comprehensive initiative that will help families that have been hurt by the economic impact of the coronavirus.

The signing came hours before Biden delivers his first prime-time address since taking office. He's aiming to steer the nation toward a hungered-for sentiment — hope — as he marks one year since the onset of the pandemic that has killed more than 529,000 Americans.

“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country," Biden said as he signed the bill in the Oval Office.

The new law also represents the most significant investment in Indian Country ever, at least $31 billion directed at tribal governments and to help Indigenous families.

The administration plans to implement the legislation “swiftly” to get help to where it’s needed most. A memo to senior White House staff by Jen O’Malley Dillon, the deputy chief of staff, said the president will speak to the nation Thursday night about the 10 key aspects of the spending plan.

“We’re going to make sure the American people know tangibly what the Rescue Plan means for them. We’ll highlight how the President’s plan is going to deliver $5,600 in direct payments for a typical family of four making under $150,000. We’ll talk about how additional money for vaccinations means that the defeat of this virus is within our reach, and how we can halve child poverty with the expanded Child Tax Credit,” she wrote.

Senate Republicans

Senate Republicans

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said the legislation is "a classic example of big government Democratic overreach in the name of COVID relief. We all know that what we should have been doing and would have been done had this been a bipartisan discussion instead of a jam-the-other-side approach is five or six hundred billion dollars directly targeted at the problem. But of course, the $1.9 trillion problem, as we said repeatedly, $1.9 trillion package, as we said repeatedly, only had about one percent or less for vaccines, nine percent or less for health care. So I think this is actually one of the worst pieces of legislation I've seen passed here in the time I've been in the Senate."

However the polls reflected strong support for the measure, including a majority of Republican voters that were surveyed. 

A White House fact sheet outlined the benefits to Native communities.

“The American Rescue Plan will change the course of the pandemic in Indian Country, deliver immediate relief for hard-hit Native American families and Tribal businesses, and build a bridge towards economic recovery and resilience for Tribal Nations,” it said.

(Related: 31 billion coronavirus solutions)

One provision is a $1,400 per person check directly from the government. More than 85 percent of all households are eligible for the payment, including adult dependents. “This means a lower or middle-income family of four will see an additional $5,600 in their pockets,” the White House said.

There is also a significant benefit to families, including an increase in the child tax credit to $3,000 per child and $3,600 per child under the age of 6 years old. The number of eligible Native American families are striking because roughly 30 percent of all American Indians and Alaska Natives are under the age of 18 years old. In addition the new law provides increased earned income tax credits, tax credits for child care as well as direct child care assistance.

The president had planned to sign the bill on Friday. But the White House moved that up to Thursday afternoon, hours before the president plans to give his first prime-time address to the American public on the one-year anniversary of the pandemic.

Chief of staff Ron Klain tweeted that the bill actually arrived at the White House late Wednesday, more quickly than anticipated. "We want to move as fast as possible," he said.

He added, "We will hold our celebration of the signing on Friday, as planned, with congressional leaders!"

For tribal communities, the White House said the the “investments build on actions President Biden has taken in his first weeks in office to rebuild the Nation-to-Nation relationship, including signing a Presidential Memorandum that directs the whole of federal government to reinvigorate formal consultation with Tribal Nations, expanding access to the Strategic National Stockpile for Native communities, and expanding FEMA assistance for Tribal governments.”

ICT logo bridge

The Associated Press contributed to this report.