The Evaluation of the Tribal Welfare-to-Work Grants Program: Initial Implementation Findings. Adaptation of TANF Rules


Tribal operation of TANF can improve the fit between eligibility rules, the traditional tribal economy, and special circumstances of the tribe. In some states, TANF rules are not ideally suited to promoting self-sufficiency in some tribal communities. For example, resource limits would make a family with a single car valued at more than a prescribed limit ineligible for assistance, and families could not own more than one car and one snowmobile. Tribes, in taking over TANF, have adjusted resource limits to recognize the role that such equipment plays in survival and subsistence. In Alaska, for example, native families may traditionally hunt together as a unit, and a family with three children would need more than one snowmobile to fish or hunt game, which may contribute a large share of the family's diet. Tribes have recognized such realities in their eligibility rules when they operate the TANF program.

Provisions of federal laws and regulations can complicate the operation of a tribal TANF program. For example, if more tribal members are currently eligible for TANF than the number receiving AFDC in FY 1994, there will not be enough federal funding to serve them. Tribes depend on states to provide the current TANF and 1994 AFDC utilization data. Without these data from the states, a tribe cannot determine the number of people to be served and whether the level of federal funding would be adequate. Identifying the number of tribal members receiving TANF or participating in other programs often is very difficult, primarily because state, federal, and other programs often do not determine and record a person's tribal membership. Determining the number of tribal members receiving services such as AFDC in 1994 represents an even greater challenge.

Despite these challenges, some indications of the direction of changes in tribal TANF participation are available. Three of the WtW grantees in the study reported significant increases in members eligible for TANF since 1994; one of the grantees reported significantly fewer members eligible for TANF, and the remaining six grantees lacked the necessary data to make such a determination. The increase in eligible TANF participants at the three study sites was attributed by tribal leaders to a worsening in the regional economy, improvements in the identification of tribal members, and inclination among tribal members to use services when they are delivered in culturally sensitive ways through program offices run by tribes on or near the reservation.