The Evaluation of the Tribal Welfare-to-Work Grants Program: Initial Implementation Findings. Lessons Learned and Useful Strategies for the Future

01/29/2005

The challenge of ending welfare is perhaps nowhere more daunting in the United States than on Indian reservations and in Alaska Native villages. Long-term dependency on welfare and the lack of economic development on many reservations rival (and sometimes surpass) the conditions in the most depressed inner-city and rural areas of the country. This study of the early implementation experiences of 10 tribal WtW programs identifies critical challenges tribes face in mounting programs to help long-term welfare recipients make the difficult transition from welfare to self-sustaining, full-time work. A major challenge is how to structure programs to address a complex web of related personal problems: low basic skills, lack of educational credentials, lack of occupational skills and work experience, language and cultural differences, transportation-related problems, and substance abuse problems. The individual challenges the target population of WtW eligibles face are further complicated by external factors that have long afflicted Indian reservations. These factors are high unemployment; lack of well-paying, career-type jobs; poor prospects for job creation and sustained economic development; discrimination in local labor markets; geographic isolation; poor roads and transportation; insufficient coordination between tribal and other human services programs; and lack of child care. These conditions often conspire to derail the individual efforts of welfare recipients to break an intergenerational cycle of poverty and dependency.

While the 10 tribal grantees studied in this report were still in the early stages of developing their WtW programs, their experiences identify important challenges and illustrate potentially useful strategies for Indian country. Here, we highlight several important lessons that emerged from this preliminary assessment of tribal WtW programs.