Operating TANF: Opportunities and Challenges for Tribes and Tribal Consortia. Potential Problems with States and Counties


Relationships between tribes and states may be difficult because of historical differences and competing interests, but tribal-state relationships do evolve over time. Most of the grantees in the study indicated that, while they encountered some problems with state officials and had some disputes over specific issues, tribal-state relations with respect to TANF generally were positive. Arizona, California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin supported tribal TANF programs from the outset, whereas Nebraska and New Mexico became increasingly supportive of (or less resistant to) the programs after intense negotiations with or lobbying by tribes (Winnebago Tribe and Navajo Nation, respectively). States and tribes may have conflicts of interest or competing interests (for example, sovereignty, taxation, ownership and use of lands, and tribal rights specified in treaties with the United States). Conflicts of interest in one area can create discord and harm tribal-state relations in other areas, and concern that such conflicts may arise can deter tribes from taking over the TANF program.

Divergence of views between state executive and legislative branches, or among counties that operate a state's TANF program, have contributed, in some states, to tribal reluctance to take over the program. For example, in one state where a tribal grantee was included in the study--Alaska--the legislature has resisted appropriating funds for tribes and tribal consortia, but the executive branch has provided discretionary funding from agency budgets to support tribal TANF programs. Tribal leaders who believe that some state officials oppose tribal operation of the TANF program may be reluctant to pursue the plan, fearing increased conflict with the state.

The experience of some tribal grantees suggests that potential difficulties with county-level administrators could also be a factor to be considered. In California, the Torres Martinez consortium had difficult negotiations with Los Angeles County on issues such as the location of tribal TANF offices in the County. Los Angeles County administrators wanted the tribal consortium to locate a TANF office in each of the County's supervisory districts; the consortium wanted to locate the offices in areas with many American Indian and Alaska Native residents, regardless of the supervisory district. The tribal grantee reported that county officials opposed involvement of state representatives in negotiations anticipating that the state would support the positions of the tribal grantees. The Mille Lacs tribe had problems with one adjacent county (but not others) when it took over the TANF program. These problems were resolved through negotiation, with some assistance from the state of Minnesota.

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