This component of the tribal study addressed the socio-economic context of welfare reform in Indian country, the scope and services provided, the lessons learned, and promising approaches developed by tribal WtW programs. The evaluation revealed that welfare reform has had both positive and negative consequences in Indian country. On the positive side, welfare reform is consistent with the traditional values tribes place on self-reliance and contribution to the well-being of family and community. Yet, participants in the evaluation expressed concern that welfare reform might push tribal members into more dire straits because too few jobs are available or are being generated to provide employment in much of Indian country. Because many tribes have high unemployment but typically just below the 50 percent unemployment threshold that relieves the 60-month TANF lifetime limit large numbers of Indians and Alaska Natives may be left without support, no matter how hard they try to find work. Some participants said that denial of TANF under such circumstances would conflict with treaty-based federal trust responsibilities to Indian tribes.
Tribal WtW grantees offered many of the same services as the WtW formula and competitive grantees. All of the tribal grantees in the study provided some pre-employment job readiness preparation usually workshops or individualized counseling to help participants overcome and address serious barriers to employment. The tribal grantees commonly made available, either directly or through referral, a variety of supportive services such as transportation assistance, child care, substance abuse treatment and counseling, uniforms or other clothing, work tools, and equipment.
In several respects, however, tribal WtW grantees operated differently from the formula and competitive grantees. If the tribe did not operate the TANF program, then its WtW program had to develop agreements with state agencies to promote referrals from TANF offices. Typically, a memorandum of understanding was developed between the tribal WtW program and local TANF agency. In some cases, agreements with multiple counties (and even multiple states) were needed. Despite successful negotiation of such agreements, some state TANF agencies were unable to refer tribal members to appropriate tribal programs because they were unable to identify tribal members. While states and counties may record the race/ethnicity of TANF recipients, they seldom record the particular tribe to which recipients who are American Indians belong. As a result, some tribal WtW programs had difficulty recruiting participants.
Lessons learned from the evaluation of tribal WtW grants programs include the need to:
- Enhance coordination with other tribal programs. The modest scale of WtW funding and its limited duration make linkages with other programs and agencies, especially TANF, critical for recruiting WtW participants, referring them to needed services, and addressing their longer-term education and employment needs.
- Collaborate with state agencies and programs, especially TANF and Child Support Enforcement. Tribes can benefit from agreements with state TANF and child support agencies to promote referrals from TANF offices to tribal WtW programs, and find noncustodial parents residing off-reservation so that support can be collected according to tribal court decisions.
- Expand child care and transportation resources. Tribal programs have used approaches such as training TANF recipients to become licensed child care providers, providing van services, leasing or otherwise providing refurbished automobiles, and reimbursing transportation costs.
- Utilize the Indian Employment, Training, and Related Services Demonstration Act (the 477 program) to streamline and coordinate employment and training activities.(3) Service integration can be enhanced if the tribe participates in the 477 program, which allows unified management of funds from various federal sources for training, education, support services, job development and placement, and other services. Tribal agencies then no longer have to refer clients between programs if one has exhausted its funds; this is especially valuable to small tribes whose limited WtW funds often support no more than a part-time staff position.
- Use WtW funds to promote economic development. Tribal WtW programs can do little to directly stimulate economic development. But, in addition to providing high-quality services to enrollees, the programs can support economic development by (1) documenting the number and skills of WtW enrollees for employers who may be considering moving into the area and (2) having a plan for upgrading skills in response to the needs of prospective employers.
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