White Earth Nation caseloads grow as tribe taking over human services cases from surrounding counties
WHITE EARTH, Minn. – White Earth tribal officials are preparing to begin the final phase of transferring human services cases from surrounding counties to the White Earth Nation.
The movement began three years ago when a state law authorized White Earth to take control of all human services programs for its members and their families.
Before the transfer began, White Earth was offering some human services programs, including tribal child care assistance, child welfare programs, disability waivered services and food distribution programs.
However, people also qualified for several other programs that only the counties offered.
That meant a lot of back and forth and confusion for recipients who were juggling programs from different agencies.
The complete transfer – the first of its kind in Minnesota – will mean people will have their cases streamlined into one place where they can receive all benefits together.
“Bottom line, it’s our people helping our people,” said Jamie Stewart, financial services manager for White Earth Human Services, “and White Earth has shown we can effectively help serve our people.”
According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, which is working with White Earth to complete the transfer, since the transfer began in April 2013, more than 2,000 cases involving about 8,000 people have been transferred from Becker, Clearwater and Mahnomen counties to White Earth Financial Services.
It’s expected that White Earth eventually will handle about 3,000 new cases of roughly 12,000 people.
DHS officials say all the cases that have transferred have been fully composed of White Earth members – either enrolled members or lineal descendants. Such cases will continue to transfer through September.
After that, they will begin taking in the third wave of recipients, with cases that have at least one White Earth member and at least one nonmember. They will have a choice to have their case managed by White Earth Financial Services or their county of residence.
Notices for those applicants are being prepared now.
By the time the transfer wraps up, White Earth Human Services will offer the Child Care Assistance Program, Medical Assistance, Supplemental Nutrition Program, General Assistance, Emergency General Assistance, Minnesota Supplemental Aid, Group Residential Housing, Minnesota Family Investment Program, Diversionary Work Program, Emergency/Crisis Services, Work Benefit Assistance and Employment Services, as well as some services unique to the tribe.
As cases continue to pour into White Earth Human Services, reservation leaders are busy hiring to meet the demand.
“We will have hired close to 25 staff before the end of summer – brand-new positions,” said White Earth Human Services Director Ben Bement.
He said that although the transfer has gone better than anticipated, it has not been without its share of snags, particularly in IT and synchronizing the computer systems between the state and White Earth.
“We could wish things would be seamless, but nobody has ever done this before,” Bement said. “It is a learning curve for us, the state and the counties.”
Bement said that because of the high demand for human services workers, the White Earth Tribal College has reinstated its human services program and current and incoming staff members are being trained “across the board.”
To help handle the new caseloads coming from both on and off the reservation, White Earth Human Services is expanding outside its hub in Naytahwaush to open offices in Bagley, Mahnomen and Detroit Lakes.
Personnel dealing with the enormous changes are hoping for patience.
“We’re just taking this month by month,” Bement said. “But there are a lot of unknowns, and there’s no road map to say this is how you do this, so we have to pave our own path.”