This component of the tribal study addressed the benefits of tribes operating their own TANF programs, the challenges and problems encountered, and the lessons learned. The ultimate impact of tribal TANF programs remains a question, however, because this study was not designed to measure impacts on employment outcomes. Furthermore, the persistent lack of employment opportunity in Indian country is an ongoing challenge to tribal TANF programs no matter how well they are run.
Assuming responsibility for TANF presents tribes with important opportunities that affect many members. In addition to increasing participants employability and opportunities, it can bring an infusion of federal and state dollars under tribal control, enhance program coordination, and improve the tribes reputation and image. However, operating TANF also poses risks and costs for tribes and tribal consortia. A tribal TANF program contends for resources with other tribal programs. Funding levels are based on 1994 Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) caseloads, and tribes (as with state TANF agencies) report that they cannot guarantee their ability to serve all eligible participants if unexpected events or circumstances arise, such as a natural disaster. Failure to operate the program successfully might harm the most vulnerable tribal members, set back other tribal self-determination initiatives, raise difficult personnel issues, and create or exacerbate problems with the state.
Despite these possible drawbacks, the overall experiences of tribes/Native corporations with operating their own TANF programs have been positive. In fact, cooperation on welfare reform may represent one of the best examples of tribal-state collaboration, and can serve as a model for other areas. For example, state governments have worked with tribes in the study sites to plan and carry out the transfer of responsibility for operating TANF from the state to the tribe or tribal consortium. The states have provided training and technical assistance to tribal staff and shared their approaches to TANF data collection, management, and reporting. Most of the states examined in the evaluation provided the tribal TANF programs with some or all of the matching funds they would be required to provide in a state-run program.
Several lessons were learned from the evaluation of tribal TANF programs. Reports of the number of tribal members on AFDC in 1994 are critical to the financial soundness of tribal TANF programs, but some of these reports were based on estimates that were subject to error. Refinement of some TANF program policies and procedures might help tribal programs.(4) In addition, cooperation with the state can smooth the transition to a successful tribal TANF program. State policies and services are critical to the success of tribal TANF programs: states can deliver training, provide TANF services for a transition period, share state information systems and equipment, and ensure that tribal TANF participants have access to other state services.
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