Welfare Eligibility:

Programs Treat Indian Tribal Trust Fund Payments Inconsistently

HRD-88-38: Published: May 20, 1988. Publicly Released: May 20, 1988.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO provided information on: (1) the extent, size, nature, and frequency of payments Indian tribes and organizations received from certain tribal trust funds; (2) how various federal welfare programs treated the payments in determining program eligibility; and (3) the reasons for legislated special exclusions of such payments.

GAO found that: (1) from 1984 through 1986, members of 55 Indian tribes received payments from tribal trust funds that totalled about $247 million; (2) members of 21 tribes received recurring, periodic payments that totalled about $157 million, while members of 35 tribes received sporadic or one-time payments of about $90 million; (3) 9,800 Indians received sporadic payments exceeding $2,000; and (4) annual payments varied from $12.61 to $9,000 per person. GAO also found that: (1) federal welfare program regulations and policies varied regarding the legislative exclusion of $2,000 from all tribal trust fund payments for non-Social Security program eligibility determinations; and (2) it could not determine the reasons for the legislative exclusion.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No committee action had been taken on two bills introduced in the 103rd Congress. No new legislation has been introduced in the 104th Congress.

    Matter: Congress should further amend the Judgment Funds Distribution Act to clarify how the $2,000 exclusion should be applied by specifying whether it should be limited to single, annual, cumulative, or other time-phased payments. Congress may wish to consider whether it is appropriate to require excluding all tribal trust-fund distributions and related purchases in determining eligibility for Social Security Act welfare programs, while specifying a $2,000 exclusion for non-Social Security Act programs. Congress may also wish to consider the impact on Indians in conjunction with the equity of treatment of other individuals in need of federal welfare assistance.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Agriculture's (USDA) regions, pursuant to a July 5, 1988, headquarter's directive, reiterated existing food stamp policies to state agencies, and directed regions to take steps to ensure state compliance.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, and the Interior, and the Administrator of Veterans Affairs should clarify program regulations, policies, and other guidance so that tribal trust fund distributions and related purchases are treated consistently within the respective programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) believes it is inappropriate to take action until Congress has clarified how the exclusion should be applied. However, letters were sent to offices reiterating the HUD current policy.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, and the Interior, and the Administrator of Veterans Affairs should clarify program regulations, policies, and other guidance so that tribal trust fund distributions and related purchases are treated consistently within the respective programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department of the Interior plans no further action on the recommendation. Further, recent welfare reform legislation places the responsibility for welfare programs at the state and tribal levels. It also limits the federal government's regulation of these entities' welfare assistance programs, including eligibility requirements.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, and the Interior, and the Administrator of Veterans Affairs should clarify program regulations, policies, and other guidance so that tribal trust fund distributions and related purchases are treated consistently within the respective programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Policy clarification was made by the Veterans Administration's (VA) Office of the General Counsel in April 1989, and was disseminated to all regional offices. Policy was reiterated in training seminars held in the summer of 1989.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, and the Interior, and the Administrator of Veterans Affairs should clarify program regulations, policies, and other guidance so that tribal trust fund distributions and related purchases are treated consistently within the respective programs.

    Agency Affected: Veterans Administration

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA regions, pursuant to a July 5, 1988, headquarters directive, queried state agencies as to whether compliance problems exist. Based on state responses, the regions reported to the Department that no problems remain.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, the Interior, and Health and Human Services, and the Administrator of Veterans Affairs should establish procedures to ensure that local programs comply with federal program regulations and policies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: HUD concurs with the recommendation, but believes Congress should act first to clarify how the exclusion is to be applied. Meanwhile, HUD continues to use procedures already in place.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, the Interior, and Health and Human Services, and the Administrator of Veterans Affairs should establish procedures to ensure that local programs comply with federal program regulations and policies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In its final regulations, published June 4, 1991, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reinforced Aid to Families with Dependent Children policy of excluding all judgment award and other tribal trust fund distributors in determining applicant eligibility. HHS plans to continue using its established procedures in monitoring compliance.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, the Interior, and Health and Human Services, and the Administrator of Veterans Affairs should establish procedures to ensure that local programs comply with federal program regulations and policies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  8. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department of the Interior plans no further action on the recommendation. Further, recent welfare reform legislation places the responsibility for welfare programs at the state and tribal levels. It also limits the federal government's regulation of these entities' welfare assistance programs, including eligibility requirements.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, the Interior, and Health and Human Services, and the Administrator of Veterans Affairs should establish procedures to ensure that local programs comply with federal program regulations and policies.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA contacted the region GAO found in noncompliance with written policy and believes that the region is now in compliance. Also, a quality control program will regularly review implementation of instructions.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, the Interior, and Health and Human Services, and the Administrator of Veterans Affairs should establish procedures to ensure that local programs comply with federal program regulations and policies.

    Agency Affected: Veterans Administration

 

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