Welfare Reform:

Tribal TANF Allows Flexibility to Tailor Programs, but Conditions on Reservations Make It Difficult to Move Recipients into Jobs

GAO-02-768: Published: Jul 5, 2002. Publicly Released: Jul 12, 2002.

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The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act gives Native American Indian tribes the option to administer Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs, either alone or as part of a consortium with 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 than it gives to states. Tribes have used various strategies to stimulate economic development, but despite these efforts, unemployment and poverty rates on reservations remain high and prospects for economic growth may be limited. To improve economic conditions on reservations, tribes operate enterprises in a range of commercial sectors. Nationally, the number of American Indian families receiving TANF assistance has declined in recent years; however, in some states, American Indians represent a large and increasing share of the state TANF caseload. To date, 174 tribes, either alone or as part of a consortium, are administering their own TANF programs and have used the flexibility in the act to tailor their tribal TANF programs to meet TANF requirements. However, many tribes have found that TANF caseload and unemployment data on American Indians is inaccurate, complicating the determination of TANF grant amounts for tribal programs and making it difficult to design and plan such programs. Tribes also lack the infrastructure, such as automated information systems, to administer their programs efficiently. Because tribes lack experience administering welfare programs, they have turned to both states and the federal government for assistance.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: As of July 2006, the agency has taken no action to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Department of Health and Human Services should provide assistance to tribes to better enable them to determine the feasibility of implementing their own TANF programs and to ensure that they have access to information about strategies other tribal TANF programs have used to help move recipients into productive work activities so that they can develop better programs that respond to economic conditions on reservations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services


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