Your Options and How to Receive Them
Too many Native American individuals and families across the United States do not receive the benefits they are entitled to. This stems from gross mismanagement, inefficiency, and simply lack of understanding about what it truly available for the people. The two main US government agencies[i] that deal with these things include the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the federal Social Services organization (FASS).
Although Native Americans can, of course, also get general welfare-related benefits, food stamps, and healthcare coverage, there are options specific to their standing as a member of one of the 570+ recognized NA tribes. To receive anything, the individual needs to be enrolled as a tribal member.
This article intends to inform people of what Native American benefits exist, how to apply and qualify for them, and how to get help if you need it.
This is not a comprehensive list or a guarantee that you will get these benefits.
Available Native American Benefits
No matter what type of BIA-related options you have an interest in, you must meet certain criteria to receive them. As mentioned above, enrollment in a tribe that the federal government recognizes is the first and most important. You also must live within an area already approved for services, which can include reservations, tribal lands, and more.
Many benefits are also need-based. In order to get funds for housing, utilities, food, and other necessary things, you cannot have sufficient money or resources to procure them yourselves. Also, if you already receive public benefits of any kind, you may not be eligible to receive these NA benefits, too. Visit an appointed social worker to go over the details about how to apply for Native American benefits.
Before describing some of the Native American benefits available[ii], it is important to note that funding and compliance with treaty obligations does not always work the way it is intended to.[iii] Poverty among Native peoples is at some of the highest rates all across the country.
The 2019 budget for the BIA's services tops $2.4 billion. This total amount covers every single benefit that they provide, including some handled by the Office of Indian services that have no immediate or direct impact on how people live in their day-to-day lives.
Some of these budgetary interests include:
- Funds saved for potential disaster relief
- Law enforcement on reservations
- Tribal prisons and other detention centers
- Administrative services for land trusts and natural resource management
- Tribal government payments
- Construction or roads and utility services coming into reservations
A large portion of the available funds and assistance for tribal people focus on housing access and improvements. Still, 40% of reservation homes are considered inadequate, and native homeless populations rise all the time.
Various assistant organizations include:
Tribal Housing Board / TDHES – Seeks to improve opportunities for home ownership through the development of low-cost properties, and enforcing non-discrimination laws in general. Money goes toward the Tribally Designated Entity (TDHE), which may exist as a non-profit group or tribe-specific authority. They follow the rules to use the funding appropriately for the benefit of their people.
ONAP – The Office of Native American Programs is associated with HUD and provides a variety of financial benefits to manage communities, guarantee home loans, improve native veterans' access to housing, and help bring existing buildings up to code by getting rid of mold issues and more.
Direct Grants – A variety of grant programs[iv] exists for organizations and tribes who want to use them to improve living conditions, advance communities, and support lower income Native Americans' desire and need to have reasonable housing. Two of these include the Indian Community Development Block Grant and the Indian Housing Block Grant. No money is given directly to individuals or families, but it must be used to provide increased access to quality housing for them.
Housing Improvement Program (HIP) – Individuals and families can apply to receive HIP benefits for their own purposes. Low-income Native Americans get some money directly to improve their living conditions on reservations or other tribal land areas. You must demonstrate a considerable need for renovation, repair, or re-building in order to qualify.
EPA Green-Building Benefits – In the quest to “go green” and create more environmentally friendly housing all across the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency has created the Indian General Assistance Program (GAP)[v] to give funds for the implementation of eco-friendly building projects. Besides building, this money also helps to educate and train tribe members in sustainable and healthy construction methods.
Indian Home Loan Guarantee – Although many of these things benefit reservations, tribes, and communities as a whole, the federal government of the USA also offers direct help to people who want to own a home.[vi] Applying for these loans occurs through HUD instead of with a bank or mortgage lender, and you are guaranteed acceptance except in very rare circumstances.
Although Native Americans are citizens of their individual tribes or nations, they are also citizens of the United States. This gives all of them the right to a free public education just like any non-native child would attend elementary and secondary school. Despite this legal requirement to provide schooling, tribal education lags behind many districts in non-native regions. Only 13% of tribal students go on to get a university degree as opposed to around 37% of non-tribal students.
There are no benefits handed out that give Native American students free tuition or room and board to Universities. However, 33 colleges have been built and run by the Bureau of Indian Education, and many tribal leaders and families with school-aged children hope for more improvements in the future. The United Tribes Technical College is one of these.[vii]
Some education benefits for Native American families include:
Indian Child and Family Education – The FACE program[viii] attempts to improve how parents get involved in early childhood learning
Various Scholarships – The United States government provides a variety of college and educational training scholarships specifically for people associated with tribes across the country.
Udall Undergraduate Scholarship gives money to Native American students who demonstrate unique services for their people and environmental issues.
American Indian Education Fund[ix] scholarships award money based on need and merit up to approximately $450,000 per year. Besides simply handing out funding for tuition and other university expenses, this group also offers mentorships and ongoing support.
The Association of American Indian Affairs awards many scholarships every year to approximately 10% of the people who apply. Minimum grade point averages are required to retain the funding.[x]
The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR)[xi] have multiple Native American educational scholarships to hand out annually. Although they are flat amounts instead of ongoing support, everything helps when a student wants to attend college. These are given out based on both financial need and academic achievement.
Other possible advanced education scholarship opportunities include one from the American Indian College Fund[xii], the Intertribal Timber Council[xiii], and the American Indian Graduate Center.[xiv]
Other Educational, Training, and Internship Opportunities
Multiple scholarships and job recruitment programs exist to get more Native Americans involved in the healthcare industries.[xv] These help people interested in finding education in various medical and health-related fields and those already working in the Indian health programs.
Individuals who have become disabled and cannot continue with their former job can get vocational rehabilitation. For those living on or near reservations and other designation tribal lands, this service program educates and provides assistance to people who can work but need additional training after an injury or illness.[xvi] Non-disabled tribal members can get job placement and training through the Native Employment Works Program in some cases.[xvii]
Other community-based initiatives and organizations exist, which are probably handled by tribal representatives working with US government agencies. Things like the Indian Education Assistance to Schools do various things that do not directly benefit individuals. You can hope that they benefit a school or group of students nearby or that includes your children.
Other Possible Benefits for Individuals and Tribes
The non-tribe-specific assistance programs accessible by all people across the United States are frequently the first line of help for tribal people. These include TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Food Stamps program, and others associated with specific agencies and conditions. In many cases, a family should apply to these before figuring out how to apply for Native American benefits, as they will supersede any money or help you get from the Indian-specific funds. In other words, if you already receive TANF, it may make you ineligible for additional resources.
In general, Native Americans who are members of federally recognized tribes receive little help directly outside of any ordinary assistance programs available to every citizen. However, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other organizations do have funding and grant programs available to help communities, reservations, and tribes make improvements that will hopefully benefit the people who live there. In the end, through mismanagement, lack of funding, and community problems, much of the proposed benefits never really come to light.
How to Apply for Native American Benefits
General information about applying for any of the above-listed benefits involves contacting your local Bureau of Indian Affairs office[xviii] for more information. They will help you find a regional office or representative to help you throughout the whole process. In total, 12 offices exist across the United States including Alaska, although there are smaller agencies and individual representatives you should be able to find convenient to most major areas.
Tribe-related benefits such as grants for communities or development funding have their own unique application processes depending on the agency or group that controls them. These must come from tribal leaders or legal representation and not random individuals who want, for example, improved housing or a reservation school. Due to the sovereignty of native tribes within the United States, things rely on multiple regulations and practices to make any progress. Expect to wait quite a while for any decisions.
Individuals who need help with housing assistance, upgrading construction, paying for heating or electricity, or other related issues can apply directly. Make sure you and your family are registered with a recognized tribe, have trial identification cards or documents, and have all other necessary information complete before submitting an application for anything. This will help minimize processing and wait times. All these things are also required to get approvals.
If you have trouble locating or getting in contact with the regional agency or someone else who can help you, get in touch with your tribal leader or simply ask other people about their experiences with the system. It often helps to get friendly help to walk you through the process if you are unsure about anything. The resources linked to in this article can give you quite a bit of information about the various funds and agencies. Most have contact information included. However, talking with tribal members or even finding online communities may provide additional insight to speed up the process or work toward approval more assuredly.
With graduation numbers low, homelessness high, lack of sufficient healthcare rampant, and other problems plaguing the Native American populations more than non-native people across the United States, receiving help from any agency or fun may take considerable time or effort. One of the best things you could do to help your community and yourself is to get involved with tribal affairs, volunteer time and energy to researching and making appointments with representatives and agents, and working together for a brighter future.
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