9.3 Tribal TANF

Legal References:

The Tribal TANF section includes:

  • 9.3.1 Background
  • 9.3.2 Service Population & Areas
  • 9.3.3 Operating Agreements & TFAP
  • 9.3.4 Tribal TANF Benefits
  • 9.3.5 Child Care for Tribal TANF Families
  • 9.3.6 Child Support for Tribal TANF families

9.3.1 Background

The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) provided tribal governments an unprecedented opportunity to design and administer their own TANF programs under 42 USC 612 . Congress recognized the unique economic hardship and challenges facing tribal members by allowing Indian tribes greater flexibility in designing program requirements to meet TANF goals.

RCW 74.08A.040 supports the federal law and directs the state to work with tribes and support Tribal TANF programs through the transfer of a fair and equitable amount of State TANF funds.

To start a Tribal TANF program, a tribe:

  • Submits a letter of Intent to the federal government.
  • Develops a Tribal Family Assistance Plan (TFAP, or Tribal TANF plan, outlining its approach to providing welfare-related services and submits it directly to the federal government.
  • Enters into negotiations with the state to determine, at a minimum, the Tribal Family Assistance Grant amount. When an agreement is reached, an intergovernmental agreement is signed and a regional operating agreement is developed.

Tribal TANF agreements and plans are in effect for a three-year period. After that, they may be renewed with the state and the federal government. (See chart for a list of current Tribal TANF programs .)

9.3.2 Service Population & Areas

The tribe has the authority to define its service area and its service population. Each tribe negotiates with the state (and neighboring tribes if applicable), regarding whom they will serve and in what areas. To qualify for Tribal TANF, a family must:

  • Include at least one client, child or adult, who is a Native American/Alaska Native or is affiliated with an Indian Tribe; and
  • Live in the service area of a Tribal TANF Program

Tribes may serve all Native Americans or only tribal members. Tribes typically, but not always, serve all Native Americans who live on their reservation. (See chart for current service populations.)

In addition to their reservation, the tribe decides their geographic service areas, called "near reservation areas." If this area is also the near reservation area of more than one tribe, the tribe will contact the other tribe(s) and, if necessary, work out an agreement with the other tribe(s) on who will be served.

The near reservation areas are defined by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). They are often identified by country or zip code boundaries and should be included in the local operating agreement. (See chart for current service area)

9.3.3 Operating Agreements & TFAP

Each tribe defines Tribal TANF eligibility in the Tribal Family Assistance Plan (TFAP).

The TFAP defines the conditions of eligibility for income, resources, grant standards, services, sanction policy and other eligibility criteria which may differ from the state-administered TANF program. Eligibility is different for each tribe, so refer to the specific tribe's agreement for details.

The Regional Office and affected Community Services Offices (CSO) assume the lead in negotiating an Operating Agreement. The agreement addresses how the state and Tribe will communicate and coordinate, including how:

  • Cases will be transferred to the Tribal TANF program;
  • Cases will be handled if the client moves out of the Tribal TANF service area;
  • Tribal TANF case information will be exchanged for CSO determination of basic food eligibility; and
  • The tribe will handle child support collections.

When a Tribal TANF program begins operations, Regional Office staff identifies eligible tribal cases and transfers them to the Tribal TANF program. The tribe will refer back families who do not qualify for Tribal TANF benefits.

9.3.4 Tribal TANF Benefits

The Tribal TANF program has received TANF funds to provide all TANF cash aid and WorkFirst benefits and services including:

  • TANF grants, emergency cash aid (AREN), and support services;
  • Case management (such as creating Individual Responsibility Plans or imposing sanctions for refusal to participate); and
  • Employment services or other activities to help the family become self-sufficient.

Under the Tribal TANF program, the tribe has the flexibility to provide services in a different manner and may call them by a different name. Differences between the state and Tribal TANF programs may include:

  • TANF grant standards;
  • Income and resource eligibility rules; and
  • Participation requirements, hours, and types of activities.

Families cannot receive both State TANF and Tribal TANF for the same month under federal law. Families with at least one eligible tribal member are eligible for Tribal TANF. The whole family, including tribal and non-tribal members, is served by one program. Do not split the AU between TANF and Tribal TANF.

Federal law does not give tribes legal authority to administer the Basic Food programs at this time so CSOs partner with the tribe to provide these services.

See the EAZ manual for more information about how to process Tribal TANF cases, including authorization of  Basic Food (see Clarifying Information 3. b.).

9.3.5 Child Care for Tribal TANF families

Under federal law and funding, Tribal TANF families may be served through either the Tribal TANF program or through the state's Working Connection Child Care program. The parent can choose which program to apply for, or the tribe can require the parent to first apply for WCCC.

The tribe's child care program may be broader and able to serve clients not eligible for state's program. Families may not receive payment from both programs for any given month.

9.3.6 Child Support for Tribal TANF families

For Tribal TANF tribes, Division of Child Support (DCS) and the tribe develop agreements and procedures regarding the establishment of paternity and child support and the enforcement and distribution of child support. Under most Tribal TANF programs, after the parent has signed an assignment of child support to the tribe, child support collections are sent to the tribe for appropriate distribution.


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