Financial Assistance for Native Americans

The U.S. Government Offers Programs That Provide Financial Assistance to Tribal Members on or Near Reservations

Given the unique hurdles and historic struggles that Native American people have endured, it’s vital for these communities to know what resources exist to assist them. In the United States, indigenous people suffer high rates of unemployment and poverty. And while they have made achievements in education, they still have the lowest rates of holding postsecondary degrees in the country, according to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, an association of organizations that advocate for community reinvestment.

Native Americans have access to special programs meant to fill in the gaps left by the traditional welfare programs in the country. But these have been unable to secure even basic needs for Native American communities, fueling poor outcomes. “Federal funding for Native American programs across the government remains grossly inadequate to meet the most basic needs the federal government is obligated to provide,” noted a 2018 report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Given these realities, here is a look at the financial assistance that is available.

Key Takeaways

  • In the United States, the main social welfare program is Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • In addition, the Bureau of Indian Affairs maintains the Financial Assistance and Social Services program for Native Americans. This covers general assistance, child assistance, nonmedical institutional or custodial care of adults, and disaster assistance.
  • There are some further resources for economic development, job training, and health.

While the use of the word “tribe” is contested, the term is used here because it is the specific designation used by the U.S. government, a crucial component of eligibility criteria for assistance programs.

Financial Assistance Programs for Native Americans

In the United States, the main government-run social assistance program is Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), also referred to as welfare. Started in 1997, the program provides cash assistance to needy American families with children. It is administered through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Tribal governments also run welfare plans. Qualification for these, and the specifics of what the plans do, go through the tribes. For instance, the Navajo Nation Division of Social Services offers assistance, among other things, for water, energy, and school clothing for those with less than 60% of their state’s median income.

There are further support programs related to these services, such as the “477 programs,” named after the federal law that established them. These programs, which also receive federal dollars, are meant to increase self-determination for tribes by lessening the effects of unemployment and increasing job opportunities for Native Americans. These funds are used by tribes to provide a wide range of services, from childcare and employee recruitment to commercial loan programs for Native American businesses.

In addition, the federal government offers some financial assistance specifically aimed at individual indigenous people. For instance, the Bureau of Indian Affairs maintains the Financial Assistance and Social Services program for Native Americans. This is meant to increase welfare by providing cash to those who don’t qualify for the TANF program. Because they are meant as extra layers of social protection, these programs may require that you can prove you have exhausted attempts to receive assistance through the broader welfare program.

There are five main categories that the Indian Affairs bureau’s social services money is meant to cover:

  • General assistance: For “essential needs” such as food, clothing, and shelter
  • Child assistance: This includes payments for children in foster homes, or in day care or special-care programs.
  • Nonmedical institutional or custodial care: This covers costs arising from either in-home care or institutional care of an adult who is of advanced age or physically or mentally impaired.
  • Emergency assistance: For expenses from a natural disaster like a flood or fire
  • Burial assistance

Eligibility Requirements

To qualify for the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ financial assistance for Native Americans, you have to be a member of a federally recognized tribe.

If you are not currently a member of a tribe, the precise criteria you have to meet to join one will vary depending on the tribe. But two common prerequisites, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior, are lineal descendancy from a person named in the tribe’s “base roll”—the original set of members named in their constitution—or being related to a tribal member descended from somebody named in the base roll.

This process will likely involve conducting genealogical research to establish your ancestry and connection with a specific tribe. From there, it will mean talking with the tribe directly to learn about their enrollment process.

Applying for Financial Assistance

The financial assistance flows through the regional offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The bureau has an application, which can be accessed on its website, as well as information about regional offices of the bureau.

In addition to filling out that application, you will need documents that prove membership in a tribe recognized by the U.S., personal identity, income, and denial from other forms of general assistance programs.?

Other Benefits for Native Americans

As with the 477 programs, which provide federal funding for tribes to stimulate social services, there are a number of programs that provide money for education, health, or career readiness and economic opportunity. For example, the Native Employment Works (NEW) sends additional federal funding to tribes that took part in the Tribal Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Program.?

But what about assistance for individuals?

There are other benefits and services available to Native Americans. These include:

  • Family and Child Education: Those with young children may have access to early childhood education or parenting classes.
  • Home loans: Native American veterans are eligible for home loans through the Native American Direct Loan program. There are also home improvement grants available to Native Americans, as well as low-cost housing programs.
  • Food: An alternative to food stamps, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) distributes food to households on reservations and in some areas of Oklahoma.
  • Scholarships: There are several educational options, including grants for attending higher education, as well as scholarships for pursuing an undergraduate degree in some degree pathways in the health profession.

What Percentage Native American Do You Need to Be to Get Financial Aid?

To qualify for assistance, you will need membership in a federally recognized tribe. The criteria are different for each tribe, but typically involve descendance from members of the tribe’s base roll.

Can I Get Money for Being Native American?

No. The U.S. does not give out cash payments to indigenous people. Some tribal governments run casinos that pay shareholder dividends. But those are not operated by the U.S. government. However, there are financial assistance programs available to Native American people in need.

How Do I Prove My Native American Status for Benefits?

For access to federal benefits, you will need membership in a federally recognized tribe. That might be established through a tribal membership card, issued to those belonging to the tribe, or a “certificate of degree of Indian blood (CDIB),” offered by the U.S. government, which vouches that a person has a specific degree of blood tracing to a federally recognized tribe.

The Bottom Line

Given the number of challenges faced by indigenous people in the United States, it can be crucial to know what financial assistance options exist. In addition to the typical welfare option available to low-income American citizens and the assistance provided to facilitate a tribe’s own welfare programs, there is a direct assistance program and a number of other benefits, such as housing loans, food distribution on reservations, and scholarships.

Even so, broad investigations of the federal money directed to Native American communities conclude that it has not been enough to meet basic needs.

Article Sources
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  1. National Community Reinvestment Coalition. “The Economic Reality of Native Americans and the Need for Immediate Repair.”

  2. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. “Broken Promises: Continuing Federal Funding Shortfall for Native Americans,” Page 4 (Page 16 of PDF).

  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance. “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).”

  4. Navajo Nation Division of Social Services. “Services.”

  5. U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs. “Tribal 477 Programs.”

  6. Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. “477 Program.”

  7. Citizen Potawatomi Nation. “Tribal 477 Program Makes National News Thanks to VP Harris.”

  8. U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs. “Direct Assistance (Financial Assistance & Social Services).”

  9. U.S. Department of the Interior. “Tribal Enrollment Process.”

  10. U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs. “Social Services.”

  11. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance. “Native Employment Works (NEW).”

  12. “Family and Child Education (FACE).”

  13. “Direct Home Loans for Native Americans.”

  14. “Housing Improvement Program.”

  15. “Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR).”

  16. “Career and Technical Education—Grants to Native Americans and Alaska Natives.”

  17. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “I Have Heard About Indian Payments Received Monthly for Being Indian, How Can I Apply for These Monies?

  18. The Chickasaw Nation. “Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB).”

  19. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “CDIB vs. Tribal Membership.”

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