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White Earth taking over Human Services for tribal members

White Earth officials are getting ready to begin the final phase of the massive transfer of human services cases from surrounding counties to the White Earth Nation.

The movement began three years ago when the state passed a law authorizing 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, there were several other programs people also qualified for 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, which is the first of its kind in Minnesota, will mean individuals 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 Service, which is working with White Earth to complete the transfer, since the beginning of the transfer began in April 2013, over 2,000 cases involving approximately 8,000 individuals have transferred from Becker, Clearwater, and Mahnomen counties to White Earth Financial Services. 

It’s expected that White Earth will eventually be handling around 3,000 new cases of roughly 12,000 people.

DHS officials say all of the cases that have transferred have been fully composed of White Earth members – either enrolled members or lineal descendants. Cases like this 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 non-member. 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 for this third September phase right 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, Employment services, as well as some services unique to the tribe.

As the new cases continue to pour into White Earth’s Human Services, reservation leaders are busy hiring to meet that 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, who says although the transfer has so far gone better than anticipated, it has not been without its fair 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,” said Bement, “It is a learning curve for us, the state and the counties.

Bement says because of the high demand for human services workers, the White Earth Tribal College has re-instated its Human Services Program and current and in-coming staff members are being trained “across the board.”

“We’re looking at a case banking system, making sure our workers are trained in all the areas so that we are prepared for anything that comes our way,” said Bement.

To help handle the new caseloads coming from both on and off the reservation, White Earth Human Services is expanding outside of its hub in Naytahwaush to open offices in Bagley, Mahnomen and Detroit Lakes.

As new ground is forged in this transfer and new people are hired to manage new cases, personnel dealing with the enormous changes are hoping for some patience.

“We’re just taking this month-by-month,” said Bement. “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.”

Paula Quam

Paula Quam is the editor for Forum Communications Co. newspapers in Detroit Lakes, Perham and Wadena, all in Minnesota.

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