Graton Rancheria program uses federal, state funds to help those in need

More than half the federal and state funding since 2002 for the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria has gone to its tribal program that provides services to low-income people.

The Tribal TANF program is a personalized version of the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families welfare plan that tribes, by law, have the latitude to design to suit their needs.

For the Graton Rancheria, 2008 was a banner year. After six years of trying, it launched its own TANF program. substantially augmenting its housing and related social services. It has since received about $16.5 million, or roughly $3 million a year, in combined federal and state funds for the program.

As of March, 146 people — 52 adults and 94 children — were enrolled, qualifying for monthly cash grants or employment assistance such as counseling and job training, according to the state Department of Social Services, which contributes about half the yearly TANF funding.

The recipients make up 61 families. Of those, 53 get cash assistance while the other eight get only other forms of aid, said Michael Weston, the department spokesman, who said the tribe reported those client numbers.

It was unclear how many families are served during a full year. The tribe has declined to discuss details of its assistance programs.

At a glance, those numbers suggest a membership with fewer low-income people than are described in tribal surveys.

According to federal reports of the Graton Rancheria housing program, the most recent tribal survey, in 2007, concluded that 71 percent of respondents in its eight-county service area were low-income.

But the numbers of TANF recipients provided by the state may not completely measure the number of tribal members who need aid.

That's because funds the Graton Rancheria gets for its TANF program are based on a 1994 Census of American Indians in the service area, a much lower number. The tribe gets considerably less than it would under a current census, limiting its TANF program's reach.

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