Magazine article Policy & Practice

Providing Services in Indian Country

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Providing Services in Indian Country

Article excerpt

Providing Services in

Nationwide, welfare-to-work efforts have found some success with help from an economy that produced many entry-level jobs. But the picture is much different on most American Indian reservations. Many tribal communities suffer from disproportionate poverty rates; remote, rural geography; inaccessibility of services and high cost of service delivery; lack of an economic base to support the needs of the communities; and inadequate training, job opportunities, and support services. As an example, in North Dakota, American Indians are nearly three times as likely to live in households without plumbing facilities as the general population.

Making matters even more complex, American Indians receive services from many different sources. Tribes administer some programs directly, while others are administered by federal agencies and others by state agencies.

To learn more about how public human services are provided to a tribal community, Policy & Practice talked with John Hougen, director of the public assistance division of the North Dakota Department of Human Services in Bismarck. He has administrative responsibility for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Child Care Provider Payment programs.

P&P: Can you give us an overview of North Dakota's programs that serve American Indians?

Hougen: Our American Indians are citizens of the state, so all our programs are available to them.

P&P: How large is the Indian population?

Hougen: There are four major reservations in North Dakota and one small part of another reservation whose tribal headquarters is in South Dakota. The Dakota/Lakota tribes are on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation. The Chippewa are on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, and the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation is home to the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara tribes. In the 2000 census, North Dakota's American Indian population was reported to be 35,228 or 5.5 percent of our state's population.

P&P: How do you coordinate services for the American Indian population on the reservations? Hougen: As state officials, we have to work closely with the tribal government and with such federal programs as the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Indian Health Service (IHS), along with county government. These are all distinct from tribal government but, to get appropriate services, individuals may be involved with all these levels of government. They all deliver economic assistance and family services to the same population.

Much is involved in coordinating services between the tribes and state and federal programs serving American Indians. Because American Indians are eligible for state and tribal programs, they have dual eligibility. They also are eligible for programs offered through the federal government. For instance, a family can get TANF and Medicaid assistance through the state program administered by county government, social services from IHS, and child care and commodities through the tribal programs. So, in essence, an American Indian family works with many different agencies to get the services that someone living elsewhere in the state might get through one office instead of three or four offices.

P&P: The coordination certainly demonstrates the importance of working together.

Hougen: Yes. State officials have an obligation to work closely with our tribal partners to make sure we each understand each other's programs as well as we can. Tribal officials make equal efforts to understand our state programs and the effects things such as TANF reauthorization will have on reservation populations. Tribal and state officials work hard to maintain an open relationship because things constantly change.

P&P: In working with the tribes, are there special issues or challenges that affect your social programs? If so, how are they dealt with? …

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