Operating TANF: Opportunities and Challenges for Tribes and Tribal Consortia. Implementing and Operating the TANF Program


Tribes offered practical suggestions for easing the transition to tribal TANF. These lessons address challenges tribes face, including limitations in staff experience operating TANF, in their information systems infrastructure, and in economic development/job creation.

  • Participant Recruitment Dilemmas. One of the advantages of operation of TANF by tribal grantees is that these grantees are able to remove barriers to participation in the program by tribal members through better advertisement of the availability of the program and more effective enrollment activities. However, successful removal of access barriers may result in the enrollment of more participants than planned. On the other hand, tribal grantees with a large service area and a heterogeneous service population may find enrollment to be slow and below planned levels.
  • Training by State TANF Programs. Study grantees said that state TANF programs provided valuable training to tribal staff, usually at no charge. Tribal officials said that shadowing staff at state/county facilities helped tribal TANF staff learn approaches, techniques, and strategies the state uses. Even when the tribal program decided to do things differently, the experience of shadowing state staff helped to inform the approaches the tribal program adopted.
  • Subcontracting Some TANF Operations to the State During a Transition Period. Taking over operation of all aspects of a TANF program on a specified date can be especially difficult for tribes or tribal consortia. It can be much easier for a tribal grantee to take over specific program operations gradually, while the state continues to provide the remaining operations and activities.
  • Use of the State TANF Information System. If the state TANF information system is compatible with the needs of a tribal program, the tribal grantee can significantly reduce expenditures and efforts in developing a new information system. As an alternative, some tribal grantees have found systems developed by private-sector commercial firms to be useful.
  • Creation of a Reserve Fund for Emergencies. Tribal grantees can maintain part of their TANF funds as a reserve to help contend with unexpected circumstances, such as natural disasters. The negative effects of disasters are worsened when a grantee lacks such a reserve fund.
  • Coordination with Other Tribal Programs, State and Federal Programs, and Private-Sector Firms and Organizations. Tribal grantees in the study reported working with federal departments and agencies (and associated programs) that promote business and economic development in Indian country. TANF job development efforts can be enhanced through coordination with other tribal, state, or federal programs and agencies such as WtW, WIA (Department of Labor), NEW, SEDS (DHHS), Vocational Education and Vocational Rehabilitation (Education Department), the 477, Loan Guarantee and other BIA programs, the Small Business Administration, and rural development (Agriculture).(1)

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