Operating TANF: Opportunities and Challenges for Tribes and Tribal Consortia. Risk of Taking on a New Program


A tribe must overcome many challenges to develop a successful TANF program. Developing its TANF plan and revising it, if requested by DHHS, are major efforts. Once the plan is accepted, the tribe may have difficulty implementing the program. Inadequate facilities, poor telecommunications and information systems, or lack of trained staff may create access barriers, result in incorrect eligibility determinations, or prevent the tribal TANF office from issuing checks accurately and promptly. Even a successfully implemented basic program may be weak in critical services, such as skills training and job placement, and thus have difficulty moving TANF participants from welfare to work. These are risks that can dissuade tribes from operating their own TANF programs. On the other hand, tribal TANF grantees have the options to amend their plans or any part of them, and to adjust their programs as needed, and tribal TANF grantees can retrocede their programs to the states if they determine that they are unable to meet their obligations. In more than five years of administering TANF programs, no tribal grantee has retroceded its program, or failed to achieve its program goals and the expectations it set for itself when it assumed responsibility for TANF.

The biggest threat to the success of tribal TANF programs is the lack of unsubsidized employment on reservations. Unless employment opportunities grow in an unprecedented fashion in Indian country, many participants are likely to reach the 60-month lifetime TANF limit without finding and keeping a job, regardless of how efficiently the program prepares participants for work and removes employment barriers.

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