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Highlights

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.

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Recommendations

Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
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.
Closed - Not Implemented
No committee action had been taken on two bills introduced in the 103rd Congress. No new legislation has been introduced in the 104th Congress.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture 1. 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.
Closed - Implemented
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.
Department of Housing and Urban Development 2. 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.
Closed - Not Implemented
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.
Department of the Interior 3. 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.
Closed - Not Implemented
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.
Veterans Administration 4. 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.
Closed - Implemented
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.
Department of Agriculture 5. 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.
Closed - Implemented
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.
Department of Housing and Urban Development 6. 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.
Closed - Not Implemented
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.
Department of Health and Human Services 7. 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.
Closed - Not Implemented
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.
Department of the Interior 8. 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.
Closed - Not Implemented
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.
Veterans Administration 9. 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.
Closed - Implemented
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.

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