County, tribe partner to improve financial services to Spirit LakeBenson County, N.D., and the Spirit Lake Tribe will sign a lease agreement Wednesday that will relocate county social services eligibility workers to office space on the reservation, where more than 90 percent of clients for Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other financial assistance reside.
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald
Benson County, N.D., and the Spirit Lake Tribe will sign a lease agreement Wednesday that will relocate county social services eligibility workers to office space on the reservation, where more than 90 percent of clients for Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other financial assistance reside.
The plan grew out of regular monthly meetings of county, tribe and other regional representatives who began sharing ideas in response to child protection issues at Spirit Lake.
“Our eligibility people will be much more accessible for our clients there,” said Tom Rime, social services director for the county, which includes most of the reservation. “It will bring all our eligibility workers under one roof.”
The county employees, about 10 eligibility case workers and supervisors, are now scattered at sites in Maddock, Minnewaukan and the Crow Hill District of Spirit Lake. The Crow Hill site will be maintained, but most eligibility staff will move into office space in the Dakota Tribal Industries building in Fort Totten, Rime said.
That space had been used by Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement personnel, who moved recently to the new law enforcement center dedicated last week in Fort Totten.
The new eligibility office “also will give our social workers a place to land when they go to the reservation,” Rime said.
He said county and tribal leaders, with assistance from members of the state’s congressional delegation, have worked on the lease agreement since December.
They and other members of the regional coalition, including law enforcement, health care, school and other officials, have met monthly since early last year to find ways to cooperate and remove jurisdictional barriers that may hamper responses to the ongoing child protection issue.
Tribe leaders have pointed to chronic unemployment, poverty and a severe lack of quality housing as factors contributing to violence on the reservation, including domestic violence and child abuse and neglect.
“We initially met in response to child welfare matters,” Rime said, “and this new agreement will help to improve our response to those concerns. This agreement flowed naturally out of our closer relationship with tribal members.”
Rime said Chairman Michael Steffan and other Benson County commissioners “have been very supportive of the move.”
Leander “Russ” McDonald, Fort Totten District representative on the Spirit Lake Tribal Council and a contender in the disputed chairmanship of the tribe, also cheered the agreement.
“For us, it serves a couple different purposes,” he said. “Those services will be provided now right at the center of our community, where other government services are located. And many of the people who rely on those services are having a hard time making that 40- to 50-mile round trip to Minnewaukan.”
Former Tribal Chairman Roger Yankton, who has appealed a Tribal Court ruling favoring McDonald’s claim to the chairmanship, had strongly advocated for a greater county services presence on the reservation and called the pending agreement “historic” in tribal-county relations.
Steffan and a representative of the tribal government will sign the three-year agreement at a ceremony Wednesday at the new county office, Rime said. He said he expects the office will begin to receive clients in early September.
Call Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1102; or send email to email@example.com.