The House voted today to approve the Senate’s version of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act – and in the process release billions of new funding for Federal IT modernization and security improvements.

After two hours of debate that began Wednesday morning, the bill passed early in the afternoon by a mostly-party line 220-211 vote. One Democrat joined 210 Republicans in dissenting, with one Republican declining to vote. By reconciliation rules, the motion needed just a simple majority and was adopted.

With House passage of the bill already approved by the Senate last weekend, the measure now heads to President Biden’s desk for his signature on what forms the centerpiece of the new administration’s early legislative agenda. It’s fitting that the bill – originally drafted by House committees in concurrence with budget reconciliation instructions – reaches its legislative conclusion in the same chamber.

Tale of the Tech Funding

For government IT, the bottom line is that the legislation provides $2 billion for IT modernization and cybersecurity work at the Federal level, another $2 billion to help states fix their creaky unemployment benefit systems, and billions more for broadband and other purposes.

The story of how that funding came about reads more like a roller coaster ride.

The initial House version of the bill cut out $10.2 billion of funding proposed by Biden in January. MeriTalk learned early in the process that $9 billion slated for the TMF program was axed after compromises focused on a funding bump in the $5-6 billion range.

The original House bill passed included no money for TMF, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), or other tech priorities outlined in the initial plan. The bill did include $7.6 billion for an emergency connectivity fund, $2 billion for state unemployment insurance (UI) infrastructure, as well as funding for COVID-19 data tracking and IT modernization for the Indian Health Service (IHS).

An early Senate draft of the relief bill breathed new life for tech funding, including $1 billion for TMF and another $1 billion for CISA and other tech priorities. The Senate bill also kept the state UI bump intact but cut the emergency broadband connectivity fund by over $400 million to $7.17 billion.

The final tech funding levels in the bill are as follows:

  • $1 billion for TMF;
  • $7.17 billion for an Emergency Connectivity Fund via the FCC’s E-Rate program;
  • $2 billion for Unemployment Insurance infrastructure to be administered by the Labor Department;
  • $650 million to CISA;
  • $500 million to the Centers for Disease Control for COVID-19 data modernization and tracking;
  • $200 million for the U.S. Digital Service;
  • $150 million to General Services Administration for a Federal Citizen Services fund; and
  • $140 million for the Indian Health Service for IT, telehealth, and electronic health records infrastructure.

A Month-Long Process

The process, which began Feb. 1 with a Senate budget resolution, took a little over a month to complete. After the Senate approved a budget resolution including reconciliation instructions, the House followed with its own budget resolution shortly thereafter.

An amended version of those instructions made it out of the Senate on Feb. 4, with the House passing the amended version the following day. That started the clock on a Feb. 16 deadline for the relevant House committees to submit legislative language to the House Budget Committee.

After the markup process, the House passed its first version of the bill Feb. 27, sending it to the Senate. The Senate took a week amending and voting on the legislation, passing the version seen today on March 6.

A speedy House passage this week was crucial, as a variety of unemployment programs are set to expire on March 14. Once President Biden signs the bill into law, which Press Secretary Jen Psaki said he’ll do Friday, that benefit expiration crunch will be averted.

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Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.
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