Operating TANF: Opportunities and Challenges for Tribes and Tribal Consortia. Plan Requirements


The Act and its implementing regulations require that DHHS review and approve tribal TANF plans.(1) Before submitting a plan, tribes are encouraged to submit a letter of intent to DHHS. After receiving a letter of intent, DHHS requests the necessary 1994 AFDC data from the relevant state (or states). The letter must describe the proposed service area and population, and propose an implementation date. Alternatively, if a tribe has received AFDC data from the state and concurs with its validity, DHHS does not require a letter of intent. Most of the tribes in this study started discussions with the state(s) before submitting their plans to DHHS.

Tribes are given considerable flexibility in shaping their TANF programs. The Act requires that 50 percent of adult participants in state programs engage in work activities as defined by the statute; subject to approval from DHHS, tribes may define work activities more broadly and can set their own adult work participation rates.(2) Tribal programs (and states) can set their own time limits for federally funded welfare-related services, including cash benefits, as long as that limit matches the federal 60-month time limit or is shorter.(3)

Although in some respects tribes have greater flexibility than states, they are in some respects subject to greater federal review and are denied some advantages granted to states. For example:

  • DHHS must review and approve tribal TANF plans, but DHHS certifies only that state plans are complete. Although the tribe has flexibility in determining the format of its plan, DHHS requires that the tribal TANF plan include or address 19 issues or components (see Appendix 1). Most of the grantees in the study had difficulty developing a TANF plan that DHHS would accept on first review.
  • Funding for tribal TANF plans is based on the amount that the state spent in fiscal year 1994 on AFDC for all American Indians residing in the tribe's designated service area. In contrast, funding for state TANF programs is based on the highest of three possible formula amounts.
  • Tribes are ineligible for three sources of additional TANF funding available to states: (1) performance bonuses, (2) an adjustment for high population and low welfare expenditures, and (3) a contingency fund for economic downturns.
  • Tribes are ineligible for caseload reduction credits. In contrast, a state's work participation rate is reduced if its caseload falls.

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