The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) ushered in a new era of welfare programs in America. PRWORA and related legislation specifically addressed the needs of American Indian tribes. In this report we review the key features of the welfare reform legislation as it applies to American Indians and Indian Country, assess—to the best of our ability with currently available information—its impact on Indian nations and its chances of achieving its goals, and identify key issues that demand attention if welfare reform is to succeed on Indian lands. The report is divided into three major parts, each corresponding to one of the three policy areas in which significant change must be achieved in order for current reform efforts to be considered successful: income support and support services, job skills and training, and employment. The area of income support and support services involves the effective provision of assistance to those in need through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other programs, including child care, child support, General Assistance, Medicaid, and Food Stamps. This is what welfare recipients depend on as they try to survive and take care of their families. Job skills and training has to do with human capital development, or the provision of job and life skills that help welfare recipients move off welfare and into work. The final area, employment, has to do with developing and providing appropriate employment opportunities for welfare recipients as they exit welfare rolls. Failure in any one of these policy areas can—and does—jeopardize welfare reform. Our primary conclusion is that the combination and concentration of obstacles to welfare reform on Indian reservations means that current welfare policies are bound to fail in much of Indian Country. We are particularly concerned by the lack of attention at the policy level to the last of the three policy areas outlined in the preceding paragraph: employment. Current policy largely ignores economic growth as a welfare reform strategy for Indian Country. Even if the funding problems with TANF and its related training programs can be solved—and these are substantial—and even if federal policy were to provide Indian nations with more flexibility and control over the design and implementation of reform—and we believe it should—a sobering fact remains: without an economic growth strategy—that is, without jobs—welfare reform in Indian Country will fail. Either it will drive significant numbers of tribal citizens further into poverty as they lose support and find no alternatives, or it will force large numbers of them to leave their homelands in search of employment, undermining tribal communities and embittering Indian peoples. Neither outcome is acceptable to Indian nations; neither outcome should be acceptable to the United States. Fortunately, PRWORA reauthorization offers an opportunity to address these issues. We offer this report as a contribution to that effort. More specifically, we identify key issues in each of a number of policy or program areas.
Brown, Eddie; Whitaker, Leslie; Springwater, Melinda; Cornell, Stephen; Jorgensen, Miriam; Hale, Michelle; and Nagle, Amie, "Welfare, Work, and American Indians: The Impact of Welfare Reform" (2001). Buder Center for American Indian Studies Research. 11.