What is TANF?

By 1930, 46 states had established a program known as Mothers’ Pension or Widow’s Pension. It provided monthly cash stipends to poor, single mothers to help keep their families together. The logic at the time was that mothers belonged in the home to raise their family and not in the work force. Unfortunately, this service was not made available to all mothers; they focused primarily on widowed mothers and excluded divorced, abandoned and unmarried mothers. It also excluded minorities.

The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s had catastrophic effects on the country; industries collapsed, unemployment rates soared, thousands of families fleeing from ecologically damaged farmlands, families without food, parents with no means to provide for their children. 

In the midst of this crisis, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act of 1935 creating Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) among several other programs to aid the elderly and disabled. ADC was modeled after the already existing Mothers’ Pension. The government provided each state with funding to distribute to poor families. Once again, minorities were excluded from receiving this service.

The Civil Rights Movement and the National Welfare Rights Organization of the 1950s and 1960s brought about change; to end racial discrimination, demanded equal right for all Americans regardless of color, race, sex and nationality and expanded the welfare services to African American mothers. While images of Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges and the Greensboro Sit In are more commonly connected to this era in history, The Civil Rights Movement also prompted the government to end the discrimination practices of the welfare programs.  By 1960, 40 percent of AFDC recipients were African American.

In 1961, ADC was changed to Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). It was believed ADC requirements discouraged marriage.

The AFDC program had undergone numerous reforms throughout its history. Up until 1940, the age limit of children eligible to receive benefits was 15; that year the age limits were changed to 16 or 17 so long as the child attended school. In 1964, 18 to 20-year-old dependents were eligible to receive aid so long as they were in high school or receiving vocational training. In 1965, 18 to 20-year-old dependents were included.

In 1981, Congress set the age limit at 18.

AFDC provided cash assistance to families specifically so they could take care of their children. In 1939, household income became a requirement for eligibility. In 1961, parents or caretakers of the children were eligible to begin receiving cash assistance for their needs in addition to the cash they received for their children. In 1981, AFDC began including the income of a stepparent to determine eligibility. In 1984, that income requirement extended to anyone living in the household; a sibling, aunt, uncle, grandparents.

In 1962, Congress created Community Work and Training Programs for adults receiving federal aid. Over the next three decades many more training and educational programs were introduced to move AFDC participants from welfare to work.

AFDC was not a perfect plan. It discouraged parents from finding employment because low wage jobs and the added costs of working (i.e. transportation, clothing, childcare) were not any better than having a job. It also created generational dependency on welfare.

That all ended on Aug. 22, 1996, when President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) which eliminated the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and created Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). During his presidential campaign in 1992, he pledged to “put an end to welfare as we know it.”  TANF implement time limits and made working a requirement.  Under PRWORA, states receive block grants from the federal government to operate their own TANF programs.

Congress recognized the unique hardships and challenges of Native American tribes and added a provision in PRWORA granting federally recognized tribes the flexibility to design and operate their own TANF programs.

The objective of TANF is to promote work, responsibility and to strengthen families. The four purposes of the TANF program are: 1) Provide assistance to needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes, 2) Reduce the dependency of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work and marriage, 3) Prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and 4) Encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

On Nov. 20, 2007, the San Carlos Apache Tribal Council approved the San Carlos Apache Tribal TANF Plan to begin on April 1, 2008. On Jan. 20, 2008, the same Tribal Council passed a resolution making the TANF program a separate program from Tribal Social Services. Bernadette Kniffin, director, hit the ground running and has not stopped or slowed down since.

San Carlos Apache Tribe’s TANF program is officially called Nnee Bich’o Nii which means “helping the people” in the Apache language. In March of 2008, four employment and training counselors were hired and trained through Arizona’s Department of Economic Security (DES). On May 1, 2008 they were ready to begin providing services for the people.

Nationally, TANF has received harsh criticism from politicians, sociology and economy experts for failing to help the poor and increasing the number of families living in poverty. There may be some truth to this opinion, however, Nnee Bich’o Nii is there to help the people who want the help to make a better life for their family. Work is a requirement, submitting to drug testing is a requirement, submitting children’s school attendance is a requirement; requirements that many are unwilling or unable to meet. For those that are willing and able to meet the requirements, Nnee Bich’o Nii opens up a world of opportunities they may not have had, otherwise.

In the last three months of 2019, Nnee Bich’o Nii has helped 16 participants find permanent jobs with local departments and organizations. One of the major factors in this success is the World of Work class that began in January of 2016 and held on a monthly basis. Saralyn Hooke, Instructor teaches them about resume building, writing cover letters, completing applications, and given mock interviews. The latest class was held on Tuesday, Jan. 14 to Thursday, Jan. 16, 2018. Bernie was on hand to encourage the participants as only she can; with her can do outlook on life.

Once employed, a participant is not pushed out the door; they are eligible to receive transitional services for one year. They continue to receive encouragement and limited financial assistance in order to help them succeed in their new job. For example, if a participant is required to dress professionally and does not have the money needed to buy new clothes, the program will offer financial assistance to buy new clothes.

Nnee Bich’o Nii is open to anyone with a child or children, living on the San Carlos Apache Reservation who needs help to become to self-sufficient. If you need help or know someone who needs help, you are strongly encouraged to apply for services at either of their office locations in Peridot 928-475-5011 or Bylas 928-475-5033.


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