Magazine article State Legislatures

On the Road to Self-Sufficiency

Magazine article State Legislatures

On the Road to Self-Sufficiency

Article excerpt

Get a job. It's welfare reform's newest mandate, but finding work may be easier than getting there. The journey to life without welfare begins not at the time clock, but on the daily route from home, to child care, to work and back again. Transportation can be the biggest hurdle. Recipients without cars often have no way to get to work or have to take three or four buses each way. Even for those with cars, money for gas, repairs and insurance is often in short supply.

Solving the transportation problem is a critical part of moving recipients into the work force. Some states cite transportation as the first or second biggest barrier to employment. Many jobs are literally out of reach for welfare recipients. Only about 6 percent of them own cars. And although economic growth has created many new jobs, two out of three are in suburban areas and up to 40 percent are not on public transportation routes, according to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Many of the available jobs require shift work on weekends or nights when transit systems are even more limited. Most rural areas lack public transportation, leaving those who live there with even fewer options.

"Transportation between many poor urban neighborhoods where welfare recipients live and the outer ring of economic opportunity must be improved," says Texas Senator Rodney Ellis.

TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS

Like welfare reform, transportation services are not a "one size fits all" proposal. The old AFDC program provided gas vouchers, bus passes or tokens and paid for vehicle repairs and maintenance. Such help will undoubtedly continue under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Some states already include transportation as part of their assessment of a person's readiness to work.

Today, states have to figure out what happens to people who can't get to a job. States have taken different approaches. Florida, for example, will not exempt recipients from work requirements even if they don't have transportation, while Minnesota allows an exception if transportation is a barrier and South Carolina exempts recipients from time limits if transportation is not available. Ohio won't exempt recipients from work activities, but also will not sanction them for not participating. Given the emphasis for states to meet work participation rates it will be crucial to ensure that every recipient is able to participate.

States are looking at ways to redirect resources and thinking about new ideas to get recipients on the road to their new jobs. Part of the solution will be for states to maximize their new flexibility. Ohio has done this by appropriating $5 million for countries to come up with their own transportation plans.

Here's a look at some other new ideas.

* Make transportation part of the person's responsibility contract. Detail a recipient's obligations and specify services the department will provide to ensure successful work participation. The caseworker also can help solve problems or develop backup options for ways to work if the primary source of transportation fails. Utah provides intensive case management and gives immediate assistance for such things as car repairs, while working with clients to avoid future to transportation dilemmas.

* Don't penalize workers for owning a car. Under the old federal AFDC rules, recipients couldn't own vehicles worth more than $1,500; the additional value counted against the $1,000 asset limit required for eligibility. States have been raising those limits for several years, and now most states have much higher vehicle "disregards." Michigan and Arkansas disregard the entire value of a car, while Georgia exempts the value of a car up to $4,500. …

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