GM 11-123

GAO Report on Tribal TANF Programs

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report regarding tribally-administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs. The report, entitled “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: HHS Needs to Improve Guidance and Monitoring of Tribal Programs” (GAO-11-758), was released in September 2011. The report may be downloaded at:

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PL 104-193) authorized tribes to administer the newly authorized Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program which replaced the state-administered Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. Under PL 104-193 tribes are allowed somewhat more flexibility in administering the program than are states. Thus far, 65 tribes and tribal consortia are administering the TANF program and another ten tribes have pending applications. Under the law, if a tribe does not administer TANF, the state is responsible for serving eligible tribal members in Indian Country.

In preparation for the reauthorization of the TANF program, the GAO, in response to a request from the House Committee on Natural Resources, looked into the following questions regarding tribal TANF programs:
• how tribal TANF programs have changed since 2002 (the last time the GAO did a report on these programs), especially in light of changing economic conditions

• the challenges tribes face in administering their own TANF programs and what tribes have done to address them

• the extent to which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has provided guidance and oversight to promote the integrity and effectiveness of tribal TANF programs

The GAO found that since 2002, tribal TANF programs have increasingly used the flexibility the law provides to tailor their programs to meet the specific needs of families, focusing on culturally appropriate employment and education-related services and the setting of work participation requirements. Over half of tribes who have administered TANF since 2002 have raised their work participation rate goals, and of those tribal TANF adults required to participate in work activities, a higher percentage were meeting such requirements in 2009 than in 2002.

Tribal TANF staff reported to GAO on the challenges to administering TANF including initial design of the program; staff development and retention; implementation of adequate data systems; and problems faced by their participants due to lack of transportation and employment opportunities. Many tribal TANF programs report seeking assistance from Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regional staff and/or other tribal TANF programs in administering their programs and also utilize private consultants in helping design their programs.

The HHS uses the tribal TANF single audit reports as its primary oversight mechanism for tribal TANF programs. The GAO was critical of HHS’s oversight, finding that “HHS’s tracking of single audit reports was fragmented, with multiple systems tracking different sets of reports with tribal TANF findings.” (p. 35) And, “Due to the delays in reviewing the [audit] summaries and the fragmented systems for reporting and tracking single audit findings, HHS tribal TANF officials may not consistently be aware of all the single audit findings related to tribal TANF programs or be in a position to promptly identify and address recurring problems and mitigate risk.” (p. 36)

GAO Recommendations. The GAO made the following recommendations (p. 48):
• Review and revise, as appropriate, HHS’s process for monitoring, tracking and promptly resolving tribal TANF single audit findings so that it can more systematically target training and technical assistance to better address recurring problems and mitigate risk.

• Improve processes for maintaining and monitoring tribal TANF data – such as work participation rate, caseload, and financial data – that can be shared with tribes in a timely manner.

• Create procedures to provide timelier, accessible, and consistent guidance on tribal TANF policies that is clearly communicated to tribal TANF programs, and ensure that all tribal TANF policy developments and procedures are readily and easily accessible on HHS’s Web site. For example, HHS could consider more effective ways to provide training to tribes on how new guidance or policy decisions will affect the administration of their programs, and consistently update its Web site to provide information on related tribal TANF technical assistance and training.

TANF Reauthorization. Congress will need to address TANF reauthorization before recessing at the end of this year. Authorization for the TANF program was set to expire September 30, 2011, but Congress has now extended the program through December 31, 2011. It remains to be seen whether the Deficit Reduction Committee will include any TANF recommendations in its report that is due to Congress on November 23, 2011.

Please let us know if we may provide additional information regarding the GAO report or other Temporary Assistance for Needy Families-related matters.