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Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Programs Broader Than States'

Four tribes that have implemented their own TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) programs have used culture-based approaches to achieve a broader agenda to help their members than state TANF programs, a new study has found.

“Tribal TANF offers tribes a valuable opportunity to design assistance programs that align with tribes’ geographic, economic, and demographic circumstances and that are grounded in their unique cultural traditions,” the report concludes. Dozens of tribes (68 in total) have opted to implement their own versions of TANF or join in consortia with other tribes.

In a key conclusion, the authors write “Operating Tribal TANF promotes business and economic development and creates jobs on the reservation.” And the four under study all had a goal of self-sufficiency for their members.
However, while some tribes have achieved success with tribal TANF, designed to be more flexible than state-run TANF programs, some tribes may not be able to run their own programs and should stay with state TANF, the report says.

The four Tribal TANF programs examined in the study were the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin’s Tribal TANF program, the Navajo Nation Program for Self Reliance (NNPSR), the Tanana Chiefs Conference’s (TCC’s) Athabascan Self-Sufficiency Assistance Project (ASAP), and the South Puget Intertribal Planning Agency’s (SPIPA’s) Tribes Assisting Native Families (TANF) program.

“The number of families receiving cash assistance through these Tribal TANF programs in 2011 ranged from fewer than 50 in the Oneida Tribal TANF program to about 4,500 in the NNPSR, with SPIPA Tribal TANF serving about 350 families and TCC serving about 150 families,” according to the report.

“Self-sufficiency is the goal that each Tribal TANF program in this study has for its clients, and each program pursues this goal through a combination of strategies that includes work, education, and case management.”

According to the authors, “The Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin focuses most intently on employment, while SPIPA emphasizes education and is philosophically grounded in the concept that family members have mutual obligations to each other. The Navajo Nation and TCC programs’ focus on self-sufficiency is explicitly grounded in their traditional values and teachings.”

The Navajo program reflects “the traditional Navajo development model that includes four stages of learning and personal development: Think, Plan, Do, Grow. The process involves thinking through their career or organization goals, planning and setting the benchmarks required to meet that goal, acting on the plan, and making meaningful progress through evaluation and reflection.”

The Oneida Tribal TANF “puts a strong emphasis on job search and employment” and secondarily, on education.

“As part of the application process, individuals are required to do job search while waiting for their Tribal TANF application to be approved. Additionally, the Employability Plan, an individually tailored plan created by case managers for each client identifying barriers to employment and steps to overcome them, underscores the emphasis placed on employment as a key to self-sufficiency within the program. Though employment is the central strategy for self- sufficiency for those who are assessed to be job ready, clients are also encouraged to take GED classes and pursue other educational opportunities.”

The overall objective of the South Puget Intertribal Tribal TANF program, like the others, is to help the Native community become self-sufficient. While clients are well cared for, the idea of mutual obligation is equally integral to the cultural view of family. Tribal TANF clients are expected to become self-sufficient, to be contributing members of the community, and to be positive role models for their children and others.

Education is a key component of this tribal program. The SPIPA board “has formally mandated education as the program’s highest priority. As a result, SPIPA Tribal TANF policy requires that all clients under the age of 55 obtain their GED. SPIPA Tribal TANF also counts school attendance for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree toward a client’s work requirement.”

The Alaskan program’s strategies include training, education, and employment. “The program places a strong emphasis on participation in its subsidized employment program, created with Recovery Act funding, now in its third year of operation. Many of those who participate in the subsidized employment program, called “Gila,” are able to transition off ASAP at the end of their period of subsidized employment. ASAP promotes this subsidized work program, as well as seasonal employment, as a strategy for self-sufficiency because the wages earned through even limited employment allow individuals to access key public benefits,” the report says.

The report, “A Descriptive Study of Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Programs” was written by Heather Hahn, Olivia Healy, and Chris Narducci of The Urban Institute and Walter Hillabrant of Support Services International for the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation of the Administration for Children and Families, a unit of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.