The Evaluation of the Tribal Welfare-to-Work Grants Program: Initial Implementation Findings. States Can Be an Important Source of Support and Technical Assistance


By devolving responsibility for TANF to states, the federal government has changed the relationship between tribes and states. No longer can tribes look solely to the federal government for guidance and protection concerning welfare rules and benefits for tribal members. Now, TANF funds are limited, and tribes that wish to operate their own TANF program must negotiate with states for data needed to plan and administer their program and to determine the allocation of state TANF block grant funds to the tribal program. The five-year limit on receipt of TANF (exempted only on reservations with more than 50 percent not-working rates) reinforces the message that the federal government, with the enactment of PRWORA, in effect redefined its responsibility to tribes. Tribes have no control over state decisions that may affect their members. For example, Idaho did not accept WtW funds, and North Dakota did not accept the second round of WtW funding. In such states, tribal members living off the reservation are denied access to the WtW program, and the state cannot share excess WtW funds with the tribe(s). A tribal TANF program in such circumstances would face still heavier burdens.

Improved cooperation with states has been important in tribal efforts at welfare reform, particularly since the federal government provided neither funding nor technical assistance to specifically address the new responsibilities associated with devolution of TANF. (1) Cooperation in welfare reform may represent one of the best examples of tribal-state cooperation and can serve as a model for cooperation in other areas. Tribal-state cooperation on welfare reform is often complex, however. One branch of state government may cooperate with a tribe in some areas, and another branch may be uncooperative on the same or different issues. Problems with communication (for example, determining WtW eligibility) and misinterpretation of regulations (for example, with regard to allowable expenditures under WtW) can plague the startup and ongoing operation of WtW programs on and off reservations. Tribal WtW programs should carefully assess ways in which states may be able to help them establish and maintain both TANF and WtW programs.

This study showed that states can make important contributions to the development of tribal TANF programs. For example, Alaska, Arizona, and Oregon have made significant, innovative contributions to the three tribal TANF programs in the study. Each of these states worked closely with the tribes in planning and transferring the TANF program from the state to the tribe/consortium. These states provided training and technical assistance to tribal staff and shared their approaches to TANF data collection, management, and reporting. While some states may not provide full matching funds (the amounts the state would be required to provide were the state providing TANF), the three tribes /consortia in the study that were operating TANF did receive all or some of the state matching funds.

State agencies (particularly welfare and workforce development agencies) may be able to help tribes with TANF and WtW programs in some or all of the following areas:

  • Providing training and technical assistance to facilitate planning and transfer of TANF responsibility to tribes--sharing technology, methods, and procedures
  • Facilitating the transition of TANF to the tribal program by continuing to provide selected services as the tribe requests
  • Providing state matching funds to tribal TANF and WtW programs
  • Providing resources to supplement tribal TANF programs
  • Stationing state program staff at tribal facilities
  • Providing employment and training services (especially through the workforce development system in the state) to supplement those available through tribal WtW and TANF programs