USDA Issues Report "Feasibility of Tribal Administration of Federal Nutrition Assistance Programs"

The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a report in July 2016 entitled “Feasibility of Tribal Administration of Federal Nutrition Assistance Programs” (Report). This report was required by section 4004 of the 2014 Farm Bill (PL 113-79).

The Farm Bill required the Secretary of Agriculture to “conduct a study to determine the feasibility of tribal administration of Federal food assistance programs, services, functions, and activities (or portions thereof), in lieu of State agencies or other administering entities.” The Secretary was directed to file a report that:

  • contains a list of programs, services, functions, and activities with respect to which it would be feasible to be administered by a tribal organization;
  • a description of whether that administration would necessitate a statutory or regulatory change; and
  • such other issues that may be determined by the Secretary and developed through and pursuant to consultation with tribes.

The Report is a good resource for detailed information on various FNS nutrition assistance program statutory requirements, regulations, and division of duties among federal, state, and local entities. However, it does not include, as instructed in the Farm Bill, recommendations on specific statutory or other changes that might be needed to facilitate increased tribal administration of nutrition assistance programs. The Report’s main recommendation for a next step is that there be further study of the feasibility of tribal administration of federal nutrition programs by having an “in-depth collaborative audit with a select number of Tribes identified through this study to be both interested in and ready to administer one or more nutrition programs.” The Report notes limitations to its research, including an abbreviated timeline in order to meet the congressional deadline and the limited number of tribes choosing to participate in the research. One hundred sixteen tribes responded to a written survey, and researchers made 13 site visits. Including in-person consultations, there were 60 participant tribes who represented a broad size range.

Tribal recommendations during the process included:

  • FNS develop a model to help tribes obtain competitive pricing for electronic benefit services (EBT) for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). FNS noted that EBT is generally negotiated between EBT contractors and state agencies although FNS has organized consortia of state agencies to negotiate lower prices for EBT services.
  • Amend the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act to include federal nutrition assistance programs.
  • FNS consider the development of tribal administrative regions corresponding to the national distribution of tribes.

The communications with tribal representatives showed a strong interest by tribes in administration of nutrition assistance programs, both in terms of service to members and the exercise of sovereignty. Tribes, especially among smaller tribes, had concerns regarding cost, staffing, and physical infrastructure issues.

According to the Report, of the 15 FNS nutrition assistance programs:

  • 34 tribes/tribal organizations administer the WIC program
  • 100 tribes, tribal organizations administer the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
  • 2 tribes administer the Commodity Supplemental Food Program
  • 6 tribes administer the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program
  • 8 tribes administer the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program
  • 1 tribe (Port Gamble S’Klallam) received a waiver to the SNAP requirement for an Office of Personnel Management-approved merit personnel system and thus is able to perform eligibility and certification functions

There are additional instances where a tribe may administer a portion of a program.
However, a major impediment to tribal administration of SNAP is the requirement that a tribe must find that the state agency has failed to administer the program properly, and FNS must also find the tribe capable of administering SNAP as a state agency.

A two-page summary of the Report is available here:

A copy of the entire Report, which includes an Executive Summary, is available here:

Please let us know if we may provide additional information regarding the matters in this Memorandum.