The federal judiciary got none of the $37 million in new emergency relief it requested from Congress to help manage coronavirus-related priorities and received less than what it requested in appropriations to fund operations for the remainder of the current fiscal year.
The judiciary and most other federal programs were caught between a political tug-of-war over what to include in the $900 billion coronavirus relief plan and a separate, $1.4 trillion measure to fund agencies through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. President Donald Trump signed the dual spending package on Sunday.
Federal courts dealing with the pandemic have incurred additional expenses while adapting their practices to the pandemic. When not closed due to safety and health concerns, they’ve reshuffled operations, been outfitted with protective gear, and moved to remote platforms—all of which cost money.
The judiciary received about $7.5 million in the initial coronavirus relief stimulus last spring mainly for technology and testing and treatment costs for its probation and pretrial services program.
The second, $37 million request came after the courts and federal defender organizations identified additional funding needs for pandemic “prevention, preparedness, and response” the judiciary told lawmakers. This also included money to pay for enhanced courtroom cleaning, health screenings, and teleworking infrastructure.
Jaculine Koszczuk, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, said the judiciary would “reevaluate its supplemental funding needs in early 2021 and likely will have to submit a new request to Congress.”
Republican House and Senate appropriators didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the absence of the judiciary’s requested Covid-19 relief.
A relief bill approved by the Democratic-led House in October included $25 million for the judiciary, a Democratic aide said. GOP Senate aide said over the summer that the judiciary had “sufficient headroom to absorb” coronavirus-related costs.
Despite the lack of Covid-19 relief, overall judiciary spending at $7.7 billion is 3% higher than last fiscal year. Defender services got $1.32 billion and court security, $664 million this year.
Koszcuk said the judiciary appreciates the funding in a year when appropriations were constrained, but she also noted the coming year would be difficult.
“The FY21 appropriations is $117 million below the level sought by the Judiciary, and it will likely be a difficult fiscal year for many courts and federal defender offices,” she said.