The Evaluation of the Tribal Welfare-to-Work Grants Program: Initial Implementation Findings. Tribal Operation of WtW and TANF Programs


For tribes, the TANF program dwarfs the WtW and NEW programs--a tribe's TANF grant is often more than 10 times greater than its WtW or NEW grant. Moreover, TANF is likely to continue to exist (especially in Indian country, with its high levels of unemployment), whereas WtW funding was available for only two federal funding cycles. The size and resources required to run a TANF program have deterred many tribes and tribal consortia from taking over TANF operation. However, tribal operation of TANF is also seen as a solution to difficulties in coordinating services with state TANF programs or differences in interpretation or application of state TANF rules to the tribe.

Although tribal takeover of TANF can improve service integration for tribal members, there is also a risk of at least temporary inefficiencies in program administration. Tribal takeover of TANF, combined with a tribal WtW grant, extends the range of program resources that can be provided to tribal members in a closely coordinated fashion consistent with tribal traditions and values. On the other hand, it is difficult to integrate information resources for WtW and TANF with the other tribal programs. In some cases, WtW and TANF staff develop separate information systems that are not designed with future integration in mind. This sometimes leads to incongruous results. A tribal TANF client may report a change of address to a WtW case manager, but it is not communicated to the TANF files; consequently, a TANF check may be mailed to an incorrect address. Basic information on tribal clients can be redundantly entered by several different staffs to separate systems.

In the sites examined for this study, tribal TANF and WtW programs operate out of separate agencies. Four of the grantees (Klamath, Navajo Nation, Nez Perce, and Tanana Chiefs Conference) operate a TANF program. In keeping with the intent of the WtW legislation, their WtW programs are administered through workforce agencies rather than welfare agencies, just as is true for state WtW grantees. Staff at the tribal E&T program (partially funded by the WtW grant) and TANF staff do not report to the same program manager, and at each of the four tribal TANF grantees, the TANF and E&T programs are in different departments or agencies. This separation can impede coordination and integration of the services and activities of the TANF and WtW programs. For example, at Klamath, the TANF and WtW offices are in communities more than 20 miles apart, and it is difficult for tribal members to travel from one office to the other. On the other hand, at Tanana Chiefs Conference, the WtW and TANF staffs are at least located in the same facility.

The administration of TANF and WtW programs by different tribal departments or agencies sometimes impedes welfare reform implementation efforts. For the tribes in the study, TANF tends to come under the aegis or influence of tribal social services programs, whereas WtW tends to come under the aegis of E&T or workforce development programs. While tribal officials and program managers embrace the goal of moving TANF recipients from welfare to work, it is difficult to restructure long-standing departments, programs, responsibilities, and ways of providing services. Such reorganization requires agreement among tribal members, the tribal council, and tribal administrators, as well as the expenditure of resources that are scarce for many tribes.