Spokane Tribe gets ‘477’ approval

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SPOKANE, Wash. – The Spokane Tribe has been receiving $9 million in federal funds annually to fund nine separate programs. Indian Affairs Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development has recently given final approval for these programs to be combined under the Department of the Interior’s 477 program to reduce paperwork, reduce overall administrative costs, and provide better and more varied service to their clients.

Luanne Ferguson, an enrolled Spokane tribal member with 34 years of service to the tribe, will serve as director of the 477 program while Greg Wynecoop is program manager.

The 477 program consolidates the federal monies from a number of different programs into a single program, thus eliminating the paperwork of administering separate programs and the need for managers for each. Cost savings will be considerable under the 477 program, which also allows clients to get a variety of services from one source rather than having to go to different sources for the same services. Those savings are then passed on to the clients in the form of more or better offerings.

“We’ve eliminated one layer of management in the tribal structure,” Ferguson commented. “We don’t have the higher education manager any more, or the child care manager, or any of the others. We now have specialists in the field serving the people. We’ve taken that money from management and administration and put it back into services for the client. We’re real proud of that!”

The law establishing the 477 Demonstration Initiative was established in 1992; the first tribes to receive approval began to participate in 1994. The Spokane Tribe’s 477 program became effective Jan. 1, although final approval didn’t come till February. It is the first inland Northwest tribe to receive this approval and bring the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program into the group of programs encompassed by the 477 program.

“The Colville Tribe already has a 477 program but doesn’t have TANF in it. They’re looking at bringing it in. The Tulalip Tribe has theirs almost finished now. When ours went through, they were right in the door behind us,” Ferguson noted.

Combining nine programs into one will not only reduce administrative costs, it will also provide better service to tribal members. Ferguson offered an example: “If they are a TANF client who needs education but are limited on what they can get from one program, we can serve them from a whole variety. We now have one program with an abundant amount of services that we can offer.”

Ferguson also noted a significant change in handling general assistance. “General assistance has been located at BIA. They administered it and gave out basic need grants, but without other support services. Now we’re taking them in.

“The other services we offer are available to them: things they’ve never had before, such as someone to help them find a job or give them a bus pass or buy them a pair of work boots. Our goal is to get people jobs, get them off dependence on the welfare system, and keep them in their job. We’ll be concentrating on job placement and job retention.”

The tribe has about 2,300 members, but the unemployment rate is nearly 50 percent. Competition for low-end jobs is high and it’s recognized that tribal members need to be competitive in the job market. “A basic aspect of our program is to get you a GED or high school diploma if you don’t have one,” Ferguson said. “The first thing we’ll do when you come to us is to enroll you in a school.”

Economic development is an important aspect of reaching the tribal goal of self-sufficiency. The 477 program will be supporting job creation and training. This wasn’t being addressed under the nine separate programs previously available; but it will be under this new program, further enhancing what can be offered.

“We’re no longer tied to the federal government’s goals and objectives for our program,” Ferguson said. “Now we follow the tribal council’s goals and objectives. We’re talking of using up to a quarter of our total grant for economic development. We’ll use it for job creation and supporting tribal enterprises, including the new Airway Heights commercial development. We’ll be training people for those new jobs.”

In commenting on how they were able to get the new 477 program, Ferguson said, “The strong support of our tribal leadership was key: making the contacts and being with us at the negotiation table. That was major! The credit goes to them for watching and overseeing this thing all the way to the end.

“The staff is excited to have a new approach,” she said. “We’ll be meeting the needs of our clients and the priorities that are set by the tribal council. Tribal council wants to reduce joblessness; that’s our priority.”