Boosting our economy for the long term and creating good-paying jobs are my top priorities.
That's why I recently introduced a bill to create job opportunities on Indian reservations by improving the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare program for tribes in Montana and across the country.
The bill would create a "Tribal TANF Improvement Fund." The fund would provide $500 million in nationwide grants to improve tribal human services programs and give technical assistance to tribal TANF programs to boost economic development and expand job opportunities on reservations.
Our goal is to boost our economy so those on welfare can move from welfare to work. We must work together to foster hope by putting a dent in poverty and creating job opportunities for all.
I'll make sure that any welfare reform we pass is right for Montana and our Indian tribes across the country. More than 30 tribes, including the Confederated Salish-Kootenai and Fort Belknap tribes of Montana, now operate their own TANF programs.
My bill, the American Indian Welfare Reform Act, does some key things, including tailoring welfare laws for reservations. It will provide Native Americans with more flexibility and resources to make the TANF program more effective and provide opportunities.
Welfare reform must work for everyone. And it's important that tribes exercise their sovereignty to make welfare programs best fit the needs of their people.
Specifically, my bill would:
*Support Economic Development on Reservations - Tribes could qualify for expanded bonding authority to issue tax-exempt private activity bonds. $50 million in tribal development grants would support efforts to create jobs and improve the business climate on reservations.
*Consolidate and Expand Tribal Job Training Programs - The two tribal job training programs - Native Employment Works and tribal Welfare-to-Work grants - would be consolidated into a new Tribal Employment Services Program, open to additional grantees, funded at $37 million per year, to serve low-income parents who need training.
*Provide More Child Care Funding - The set-aside for tribal child care programs within the Child Care and Development Block Grant would be increased to 5 percent, up from the current 1 to 2 percent.
*Create a Tribal TANF Improvement Fund - The $500 million Fund would provide grants to improve tribal human services programs, adjust tribal TANF grants, and support technical assistance to tribal TANF programs.
*Include the Daschle-McCain Tribal Foster Care Bill - Tribes could get direct federal reimbursement for operating foster care programs, as set out in S. 331 introduced by Senators Tom Daschle and John McCain.
*Provide Equity for TANF Tribes - Under current law, TANF tribes are not able to access certain sources of funding - the Social Services Block Grant, the TANF high performance bonus, the TANF contingency fund - that states have. Tribes would be able to receive these funds.
*Clarify "Equitable Access" Requirements - Under current law, states are required to provide "equitable access" to Indians in their programs. Under this proposal, states would be required to describe in state TANF plans how they are providing this equitable access. They would also be required to consult with Indian tribes within the state when developing state TANF plans.
*Improve Time Limit Rules for Areas of "Joblessness" - States would receive greater flexibility to appropriately define work activities on Indian reservations where more than 20 percent of adults are jobless, better reflecting the immense difficulty of finding work in those areas. In addition, months of assistance while residing in these high joblessness areas would be exempted from the time limit rules, provided the recipient otherwise complies with state or tribal TANF program rules.
I look forward to working with the tribes in moving this important job creation and economic development legislation forward so we can work together to improve our economy for everyone.
Senator Baucus is the senior senator from Montana and the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over welfare.