Operating TANF: Opportunities and Challenges for Tribes and Tribal Consortia. Fine-Tuning TANF Plans to Reflect Actual Participation


In recent years, the number of TANF participants has been significantly lower than the number of AFDC recipients for most states (GAO-02-768, 2002). Five of the tribal grantees in this study had similar experiences, and two grantees (Mille Lacs and Winnebago) served roughly the expected number of families based on the 1994 AFDC estimates. However, for three tribal grantees (Lac du Flambeau, White Mountain Apache, and Tlingit and Haida), the number of TANF participants exceeded the number of tribal members receiving AFDC in 1994, as estimated by the state. Consequently, these tribal TANF programs lacked sufficient resources to implement their TANF plans fully (Table IV.1). Fortunately, the grantees were able to revise their TANF plans and rescue the program with assistance from DHHS and the state. For example, working with DHHS and the state of Arizona, the White Mountain Apache tribe changed the definition of its service population to include only members of its own tribe, whereas its original service population had included all American Indians residing in the service area. The state of Arizona agreed to serve American Indians other than White Mountain Apaches living on the reservation. In addition, through negotiation with the State and DHHS, the tribe was able to modify its TANF plan, changing the 1994 AFDC estimate from 633 to 770, reflecting the actual number of eligible tribal members applying for TANF benefits and resulting in a corresponding increase in funding.(1) The Tlingit and Haida negotiated similar revisions of their TANF plan, resulting in increased funding; in addition, Alaska appropriated a portion of its MOE funds to the consortium (and to three other grantees). According to tribal officials, without the changes in their TANF plan and associated additional funding, both White Mountain Apache and Tlingit and Haida would have been forced to retrocede the TANF program to the respective states.

Table IV.1
Planned and Actual Number of Assistance Units Served
Grantee Number of Assistance Units in TANF Plana Mean Assistance Units Served/Montha Contracted Services to State
Hopi 206 160 Yes
Lac du Flambeau 20 50 No
Mille Lacs 130 130 Yes
Navajo 9,000 6,000 Yes
Port Gamble 125 40 No
Red Cliff 50 34 No
Torres Martinez 5,169 146 Transitioning
White Mountain Apache 633 715 Yes
Winnebago 87 90 No
Tlingit/Haida 200 350 No
a  TANF "assistance units" can range from one person as a "child-only" case, to a single parent with one or more children, to a two-parent family with one or more children.

Three factors, alone or combined, seem to account for most of the overenrollment problem: (1) undercounts or low estimates of tribal members receiving AFDC in 1994, (2) population and socioeconomic changes since 1994, and (3) removal of barriers to program access. We have already discussed undercounts and low estimates of the 1994 AFDC counts. Even if the 1994 estimates are correct, more tribal members may seek enrollment, because unemployment and poverty may have increased from 1994 to the present, or some tribal members may have returned to the reservation. For example, some tribal members may return to the reservation as their time limit on the state TANF program approached. Alternatively, many tribal members who were eligible for AFDC in 1994 but could not participate because of lack of transportation or language-cultural barriers may apply to the tribal TANF program. Those tribes that reported an upward trend in TANF participants since they took over the TANF program attributed the increase to outreach efforts, the convenience of access to the program, and the cultural affinity of tribal members for the tribally operated program.

Two tribal TANF grantees, the Navajo Nation and the Torres Martinez consortium, were serving far fewer persons than projected based on estimates of 1994 AFDC participation, but perhaps only temporarily. These two grantees, which are among those with the largest TANF service populations, were in the process of opening TANF offices and enrolling participants when this study was conducted; this ongoing transition may have accounted in large part for the low tribal TANF participation observed at that time. When the study data were collected, the Navajo Nation had just begun to enroll new TANF participants, and Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah were continuing to provide TANF services to existing participants during a transition period. American Indians and Alaska Natives in the Torres Martinez service area, which includes urban, suburban, and rural areas (Los Angeles and Riverside counties) have the option of participating in the tribal or state TANF programs.(2) Torres Martinez was in the early stages of enrolling participants in its program when the study was conducted.

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