Temporary Assistance with Lasting Effects: A Report on Policies of Self-Determination in Native America

By Ryan A. Mather. University of Minnesota

Native American reservations are marked by poverty rates that remain persistently above national averages through generations, but a recent shift in policy toward greater tribal control over previously federal and state-operated programs shows great promise in improving the situation. This report seeks to better understand the economic impact of such self-governance policy, first by examining the marginal effect of having a tribe administer its own Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, and second by examining results from 75 household surveys that I conducted on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. I find that the implementation of a TANF program by a reservation government produced a five-percentage-point drop in the poverty rate above and beyond any reduction in poverty that occurred in state-run programs on Native reservations. Further, within tribal TANF programs, there seem to be community gains associated with both geographical proximity and administrative proximity, that is, having decisions made by a single local reservation government as opposed to a consortium of reservation governments. The survey shows similarly positive effects associated with proximity and gives some reason to suggest that local programs would be preferred to federal programs. Finally, I end the report with a brief look at the Rosebud Reservation’s preferences for future economic development programs as revealed in the survey.

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