The Evaluation of the Tribal Welfare-to-Work Grants Program: Initial Implementation Findings. Challenges to Recruitment and Enrollment


Because of chronic problems of unemployment and welfare dependency, the study sites generally report having sufficiently large pools of WtW-eligible individuals from which to draw participants. In addition, tribal WtW programs typically are initiated as part of a network of existing tribal human services and housing programs, and this facilitates distribution of information about WtW services and often provides fertile grounds for referrals. Information about availability and effectiveness of WtW services on the reservation is also passed on effectively through word of mouth.

Despite these advantages, most study sites report difficulties attracting participants from the pool of eligible tribal members, qualifying them under the restrictive WtW eligibility criteria, and engaging and retaining them in WtW services. Sites identify several key challenges that make recruitment more difficult than might be true for nontribal WtW programs: limited understanding of welfare requirements among the eligible population, problems accessing services, and difficulty identifying individuals who meet WtW eligibility requirements.

A serious barrier to recruitment on reservations is the eligible population's general lack of knowledge and understanding about welfare reform, work requirements, TANF time limits, and services available to help with the transition from welfare to work. Efforts to improve understanding of WtW services and requirements to leave welfare can be confounded by language differences; by the location of WtW-eligible households (without transportation or telephone) in outlying, sparsely populated rural areas; and by the dispersal of some tribes' members on and off the reservation.

Lack of transportation, poor roads, and the remote locations of many reservations (which translates into long and costly travel) make it challenging for tribal WtW programs to notify potential participants about the program. Poor travel conditions and lack of public transportation can also make it difficult for tribal members to attend orientation sessions and, once enrolled, to attend program services on a regular basis. Lack of accessible child care on the reservation sometimes prevents individuals from attending orientation and receiving subsequent services.

Recruitment efforts for some tribal WtW programs suffer because of a lack of well-developed linkages and formal procedures for referral of WtW-eligible individuals from local TANF offices. Tribal programs that do not have well-established referral linkages with local TANF offices (a major source of referrals for tribal and nontribal programs alike) usually find that recruitment of WtW-eligible individuals can be very slow. Six of the 10 tribal WtW grantees in the study did not operate TANF programs; consequently, they depend to a substantial extent for referrals on local (non-tribally administered) TANF offices. These tribal WtW program grantees must work with multiple counties and, sometimes, several states (for example, in the case of the Navajo Nation) to obtain referrals and confirm eligibility of potential WtW participants. This problem is especially acute for the California Indian Manpower Consortium, because it must work with and negotiate memoranda of understanding with 29 counties (the welfare system in California is administered by counties).

A significant problem affecting tribal programs that do not operate the TANF program is the difficulty states and counties have in identifying TANF recipients who are tribal members eligible to receive WtW services. While states and counties may record the race/ethnicity of TANF recipients, they seldom record the particular tribe of American Indian participants. If states and counties do not know the tribal affiliation of American Indian recipients, they cannot know for sure whether they are suitable for referral to particular tribal WtW programs. This problem is exacerbated in some areas by frequent misidentification of the race/ethnicity of American Indian recipients as Asian or Hispanic, because such identifications often are based on informal observations and judgments by TANF program staff.

While tribal WtW programs generally draw from large pools of WtW eligibles, several tribes report difficulty identifying and enrolling enough individuals who meet the 70 percent targeting requirement. This, in turn, limits the ability of programs to recruit and serve 30 percent-eligible tribal members. Tribal programs report that problems finding individuals meeting the 70 percent targeting requirement particularly afflicted their programs prior to the passage of the 1999 amendments relaxing the WtW targeting requirements. The most common problem encountered before the passage of the WtW amendments was that a TANF recipient might meet two of the three legislatively mandated targeting requirements under the 70 percent targeting criteria (for example, long-term dependence on welfare, little work experience, substance abuse problems, poor reading skills), yet fail to meet the 70 percent targeting requirement because he or she had a high school degree or equivalent. Prior to the amendments, such an individual would fall from the 70 percent targeting category to the 30 percent targeting group.