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Sanding Rock Final Rule Testimony

Jerl Thompson, IV-Director
October 19, 2016

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Child Support Enforcement Agency became comprehensive in January of 2013. We are only at the latter end of our 3rd year of comprehensive status. Meaning, we went a very long time without IV-D services for our people. So we really do appreciate the Federal funding that has made the creation of our program possible. Thank you for your hard work and commitment to working with Tribal Nations.

I would also like to thank the leadership of the NATCSD for bringing us together. I would especially like to thank those who have spearheaded the topic of Tribal Match on our funding. It is one of the most critical to the future of the tribal IV-D community and the discussions through teleconference and email thus far have greatly influenced my testimony this morning.

One of the first things that stands out to me is the topic of why, and how the match requirements where changed without, what appears to be, what one would regard as appropriate Tribal Consultation. This topic hits home to me. As most of us know, Standing Rock is currently under attack by the construction of an oil pipeline at our northern border that threatens our drinking water. This threat has manifested by the very topic of what constitutes adequate, appropriate, and mutually satisfactory consultation between a federal agency and tribal government.

I do not believe the tribes were adequately consulted when the agency made the change for match requirements based on the discussions of this body. An adequate consultation would have undeniably revealed the hardships Tribal Nations would have in meeting them. But I don’t want to get caught up in what might have been. To quote my people’s greatest leader Sitting Bull, “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” –so looking forward.

Tribal Nations have a problem. We cannot afford match as it is currently required and defined. Or these requirements create added hardships to already economically depressed areas. However, we propose a solution. Eliminate or redefine the match requirement. We then need to hear if OCSE agrees that we have a problem and if they agree with the proposed solution or if we need to begin work on problem solving and negotiating our way to the most mutually beneficial solution. Speaking for Standing Rock, this would constitute very adequate consultation.

The other point I would like to address in my statement today is in regard to whether tribal match effects performance and what we’re looking at for performance and needs. What do tribal resources mean for us?

As I stated earlier, Standing Rock went Comprehensive in January 2013. I came in as Director in June 2014. I came into a mess. I won’t go into everything that transpired prior to my arrival that led to the programs problems; however, by the close of our first year we had 10 staff, 112 cases and collected only $99. As I said in my report yesterday since then, we have 9 staff, 900 cases, and close to $300,000 collected this year. We continue to make innovations and look for new ways to continue to boost our collections. My point is this. Do those numbers indicate success, and is that success attributed to a commitment of tribal resources? No, my team and I work for loftier goals and this will be the first year we are providing a combination of in-kind and cash match. So our relative success up to this point is influenced by other factors.

Indeed, the performance of a IV-D program is dependent on factors within the program’s administration and numerous external factors beyond the program. This year we get hit two-fold.

1. We had to make budget cuts this year to obtaining automation. We did so to reduce the amount of cash match we had to fight for from our Tribe’s modest revenue sources. Indeed, most of our outlook for capability and expansion centered on keeping our budget at an amount we would be able to match at 20%. This, of course, hinders our ability to grow into a more effective and efficient program in the long run.

2. My program’s success is also reliant on more than just my team and I. External factors like the ability of our 17 seats on Tribal Council, 500 other Tribal employees, and 12,000 some community stakeholders to create success with our limited resources effect my program’s performance. With the match requirement at 20% and my ability to use our building as in-kind taken away, I now have to dip into our small wading pool of funds to provide match. The same funds all our tribal programs and entities fight over to provide their services as well. These are funds that could be used to create and advance our Economic Development. Economic growth on Standing Rock would result in more jobs available for families. Easy access to secure employment improves the judgement and decision making of people and lifts them out of poverty. Unplanned families will likely decrease and children will be more likely to actually receive their due resources from both parents -when their access to opportunity is improved. We know the improvements that come from living-in or creating areas with more opportunity. But tribes like Standing Rock simply aren’t there yet.

This, the overarching, big picture issues, are the performance improvements that really matter. And deserve more focus. What is OCSE’s vision of good performance? Is it simply collecting more than we expend, ratios and numbers easily measured that we provide in our plans, or is it being able to truly improve the life of a child and the lives our families?

Let me close with this to put it in the perspective of how I see it. Over the weekend I heard the unfortunate news that one of our babies, a girl age 5. She had been abused, the abuse was reported, but on Friday night, she was smothered to death by her mother’s boyfriend.

As I have since received further details through the back channels, I’m reminded of a quote, “if it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a village to abuse one.” I stepped-in as Acting CPS Director at the end of last year until they could get a new one hired. From that experience, I had my rose colored glasses shattered. I did not intend to work in Human Services after all. I studied business and economics. But I am nevertheless human, and deeply compassionate to the plight of my people. I’ve seen the failings and disconnects in our systems. A group of other directors, staff, and myself have since created a Children and Families Consortium to begin to work on collective strategies to create change. But every so often, I am heartbroken by news like of this little girl. One more child lost because we cannot find the funds or resources, or we cannot seem to work fast enough or get over the hurdles and road blocks we identify. I hope that this puts the value of tribal resources in perspective –that it’s not about procedure or budget to us. It’s about what we will and will not be able to do in a place like Standing Rock. Because that is my village. Those are my people. We do not measure success and performance in only numbers and ratios. We measure by our ability to ensure that a little 5 year old girl, or boy lives to see adulthood, that there is always a village protecting them from harm, that the opportunities exist for them to be whatever they want to be, and that they have the resources and everything good in this world we can give them to live a life worth living.