"TANF" stands for Temporary Aid to Needy Families. It is financial help provided by the federal and state governments to low income families with children. Recently, the State of Maine passed a law that requires TANF to end for families who have been receiving it for 60 months, (5 years). Certain families can get extensions of TANF beyond 5 years for certain reasons such as disability in the household.
Certain Native American families may never lose their TANF, even after 60 months. Under federal and state law, there is an exemption for people who get TANF who live on Indian Reservations where at least 50% of the adults are not employed. In Maine, TANF is administered by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Using employment data, DHHS has determined that the Indian Township, Pleasant Point, Micmac and Maliseet reservations are exempt from the 5-year limit. Currently, DHHS does not consider the Penobscot Reservation to be exempt.
Recently, DHHS sent notices to approximately 3000 people statewide telling them that they are approaching or at the 60-month lifetime TANF time limit. About 60 days prior to termination, these people got another notice reminding them about the upcoming time limit and the right to ask for an extension.
When it sent out the notices to people who face the 5-year rule, DHHS did not mention this exemption for families on Reservations. This is because the DHHS computers were supposed to not send notices to people in Indian Country who are exempt. Unfortunately, the DHHS computers made some mistakes, and many people – especially at Micmac and Maliseet – got terminated from TANF when they should not have. We are working to help Natives who qualify keep their TANF. Please contact Pine Tree Legal Assistance if you live on a Reservation and received one of the DHHS notices, or if you get one in the future.