OKMULGEE, Oklahoma – For families in need across the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, they have been able to rely on the Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program for the past 15 years. The department celebrated this achievement with a come-and-go event, providing informational materials and department-branded freebies. The event was an opportunity to reach out to the community and recognize how far the program has come since it first opened.
Mark Pendergrass is the program manager for the Tribal TANF program. He is familiar with the history of the tribal program as he has been with it since its inception in the MCN.
“I started the first day we became operational,” Pendergrass said. “January 2, 2008, is the day I started and is the day that TANF actually opened its doors.”
According to Pendergrass, Tribal TANF began in a single room with a staff of fewer than ten members. They would later move to the main tribal complex, expanding services.
Pendergrass initially started with the department as a case aid. Eventually, he would be promoted to program manager, which allowed him to gauge the department’s ability to help families become self-sufficient.
According to Pendergrass, one of the program’s most critical services is equipping families with the skills to become self-sufficient.
The program increases self-sufficiency by providing monthly cash assistance on a limited-time basis. This requires families to engage in weekly work activities. The activities can apply to single-parent households or households where an extended family member has guardianship of a child.
As a one hundred percent federally funded program, it serves all citizens from any federally recognized tribes within the program’s boundaries.
The specific services may seem small and simple, but they go a long way. This includes covering school supplies or clothes costs, car repairs, and personal workplace necessities. These services also extend to housing and food assistance, dependent on income restrictions.
As a family service, TANF serves adults as well as children. Youth services include SAT testing, extracurricular activities, and cultural camps.
“We serve everybody that we can,” Pendergrass said. “Our main focus is children, someone has to have children in the household.”
Regardless of what will come in the future, Pendergrass wants to see it succeed because it is a vital resource in helping Indigenous families get by and learn how to provide.
“I’ve dedicated more or less my work life to this program,” Pendergrass said. “Because I’ve been in it so long, I’ve always wanted to see it succeed because I know the potential of it. I want to ensure that it continues to grow even after I’m gone.”
TANF’s services are available for all citizens of federally recognized tribes. For further information regarding eligibility for their services or to schedule an intake appointment, you can contact their Okmulgee or Wetumpka office at (918) 549-2880. Their Jenks office can be reached at (918) 549-2484.