Welfare Reform:

Tribes Are Using TANF Flexibility To Establish Their Own Programs

GAO-02-695T: Published: May 10, 2002. Publicly Released: May 10, 2002.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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Under welfare reform, American Indian tribes have the option to run Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs either alone or as part of a consortium of other tribes rather than receiving benefits and services from state TANF programs. Because of the difficult economic circumstances on many reservations, the law also gives tribal TANF programs more flexibility to design their programs than it gives to states. Tribes have used various strategies to stimulate economic development; however, unemployment and poverty rates remain high on reservations, and prospects for economic growth are limited. Nationally, the number of American Indian families receiving TANF assistance has declined significantly in recent years. On some reservations, however, caseloads have remained the same or increased. American Indians represent an increasing proportion of the total TANF caseload in some states. To date, 172 tribes, either alone or as part of a consortium, have used the act's flexibility to design and administer their own TANF programs. Tribes face challenges in implementing tribal TANF programs, including a lack of (1) reliable data on the number of American Indian TANF recipients; (2) infrastructure support, such as information systems; and (3) experience and expertise in administering welfare programs.

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