Jobs Access in Maryland
The successful transition of people with low incomes from welfare to work is top priority for the State of Maryland. Recognizing that these individuals face many challenges when attempting to access employment opportunities, including a lack of personal transportation, gaps in current public transit, non-standard work hours, and new job locations far from their homes, Maryland has been aggressive in seeking federal assistance through the Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) Program. The result is a program that allows local transportation providers to implement new bus routes, extend the hours of existing services, and initiate specialized transportation services that meet many of these needs and link workers with job opportunities. Maryland has thus far benefited from use of $12.5 million in Job Access and Reverse Commute funds. Reauthorization of the JARC Program at or above the FY03 level is vital to ensure Maryland can continue these efforts.
Through its welfare reform efforts since 1996 Maryland has seen large reductions in the numbers of individuals receiving public assistance. Through concerted efforts by State welfare administrators, with support from other State, regional, and local efforts including those of public transit providers, many Marylanders who had been reliant on welfare have successfully transitioned off public funding. Marylandís Family Investment Administration reports the number of State welfare recipients has decreased from a total of 227,887 in January, 1995 to 67,725 recipients as of January, 2002.
However, continued progress has been more difficult, as shown by a recent increase in the total number of recipients with 68,263 recipients in the Stateís welfare program in March, 2002. This increase suggests that recent economic trends, with slowing economic growth, may be impacting continued efforts to reduce the numbers of Maryland residents reliant on welfare. And while the State of Maryland has made significant progress in helping welfare recipients find employment since welfare reform began in 1996, 8.5 percent of Maryland residents remain living in poverty.
The Stateís highest poverty rates are in urban Baltimore City and rural Somerset County. In addition, service sector industries with entry-level positions and irregular hours, often located in suburban areas not served with traditional transit services, are among the industries showing the Stateís most rapid expansion. These factors highlight the need for innovative and flexible transportation services, such as those funded through the JARC Program, to meet local community needs.
The Stateís JARC Program is administered by the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), an agency of the Maryland Department of Transportation. The MTA also administers other federal and State transit funding programs to the rural and small urban area transportation providers that operate across the State, allowing JARC funding to be viewed in context with all available resources and allowing for coordinated services and maximum benefits. While the JARC program is open to all eligible applicants, we have found the most successful projects are those combined with services funded through other federal transit sources such as the Section 5307 and Section 5311 programs.
Projects funded through the Marylandís JARC Program are evaluated for consistency with the Stateís Job Access and Reverse Commute Transportation Plan and coordination with local human service agencies and existing transportation providers. We believe this focus on coordination is one of the hallmarks of our program. All JARC funding is granted to local or regional service providers, and since the inception of the program 45 different services have received funding. As depicted in the attached map, the program has reached every corner of the State, with projects in both rural and the urban areas.
Both the funding and coordination aspects of the JARC program have been instrumental to the Stateís efforts to increase and improve transit services in Maryland, and attain Governor Parris N. Glendeningís goal of doubling transit ridership by 2020. We look forward to continuing to use the JARC program to expand mobility options, particularly for those reliant on transportation alternatives.
Job Access Program Spurs Coordination at State and Local Levels
A positive feature of the JARC Program that has benefited Maryland is that funding from other federal programs may be used for the required 50% match. Specifically, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, funds can used for this match and help increase collaboration between transportation and human service agencies. We believe reauthorization of the JARC Program should maintain, and possibly further formalize, this key coordination tool.
In Maryland, this aspect of the program has greatly assisted with coordination efforts. MTA works closely with the Maryland Department of Human Resources (DHR) on the JARC Program. DHR administers the Stateís TANF funds, and has provided nearly $6 million in matching funding both directly from the State level and through local departments of Social Services through the first three years of the program.
The partnership between the MTA and DHR built upon one that existed before the JARC Program and that resulted from another federal initiative. Both agencies are represented on the Maryland Coordinating Committee for Human Services Transportation. This committee was an outcome of a November, 1995 meeting convened by the Federal Transit Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Coordinating Committee began as an ad hoc committee, and was formalized through an Executive Order by Governor Glendening in October, 1997.
In addition to social service agencies, workforce development organizations are actively involved in the JARC Program. The result is increased coordination at the State level, improved collaboration among local transit providers and human service agencies and a more coordinated effort to connect people with jobs.
Legislation Formalizes Marylandís Job Access Program
Even though Maryland is hopeful the JARC program will be re-authorized at the federal level, the State took a proactive stance to assure the programís sustainability. The MTA introduced a bill during the 2001 Maryland General Assembly session to establish a Job Access program within the Maryland Department of Transportation budget. This legislation was modeled after a similar State program that funds general-purpose transportation services for the elderly and persons with disabilities. The Job Access bill passed, and was signed by Governor Glendening in April, 2001.
This legislation outlined the application procedures and local matching fund requirements, beginning with the Stateís Fiscal Year 2003 program. While the legislation does not mandate a specific annual allotment for the program, it affirms the Stateís commitment to employment-oriented transportation. Maryland, though, anticipates the federal program will be re-authorized so these funds can continue to help support the Stateís efforts to connect low-income workers with employment opportunities.
Services Funded through JARC Program
Several JARC services target the need to connect urban residents with the increasing number of jobs in the suburbs:
Several Job Access projects target the need to provide transit services to new employment centers previously without transit service, or provide later service to meet the needs of second and third shift workers. For example:
Some jurisdictions have implemented specialized services to meet their local needs, particularly in more rural areas. For example, Washington County, through a partnership between the public transit service and the local Department of Social Services implemented a new employment transportation program to connect low-income workers to employment sites.
The Job Access Program has spurred regional efforts to help people connect with job opportunities. On Marylandís Lower Eastern Shore, projects funded through the Job Access program have begun to address transportation gaps in this region, and have provided the foundation for a coordinated regional approach to the transportation issues facing the area.
JARC Program Impact
The role of Marylandís welfare-to-work transportation services, developed in regions throughout the State with support from JARC grant funds, must be highlighted in the Stateís efforts to reform welfare. From reverse commute services in the Baltimore area, later hour feeder bus service to and from rail stations in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., additional demand response service to employment sites and to commuter bus stops in the Western Maryland area, and new regional routes serving multiple jurisdictions in the Chesapeake Bay region, public and non-profit transit providers have assisted thousands of welfare recipients and other lower income residents access new jobs and job-related activities and transition towards independence and self-support. In all, over 1.3 million passenger trips have been provided through JARC-funded services.
But the JARC Program cannot be judged simply on numbers. As a result of the program, greater coordination now exists between transit providers and human service agencies Ė both at the local and State levels. New and stronger partnerships are working together to bridge the transportation gap for many low-income individuals. And most important, former welfare recipients are now self-sufficient. The following account epitomizes the positive aspects of the JARC Program:
One JARC-funded project supports efforts to better coordinate existing services and provides low-income individuals greater access to jobs and employment-related locations. Sojourner-Douglass College, in partnership with the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC), Baltimore County Department of Social Services (DSS), and the MTA, implemented the Workforce Transportation Referral Center, or WTRC, at the College. The WTRC provides information on existing public transportation services to employment sites and daycare facilities, and will coordinate demand-response services when transportation needs are not served by public transit. HABC and both Baltimore City and Baltimore County DSS have provided significant matching funds for this project.
Baltimore County DSS is extremely pleased with the this service, and the support it provides in removing transportation barriers, accessing jobs, and enhancing labor markets to families working towards self-sufficiency and independence. One success story has been Ms. Madeline Brooks who began using the WTRC services in March 2001, and was able to obtain transportation to her place of employment which required irregular work hours. Ms. Brooks was then able to purchase a car, and in June, 2002 bought a home and left the Section 8 Housing Program. She is now totally self-sufficient, free from any county, State, or federal assistance.
Challenges and Needs
The challenge is maintaining and building upon existing services funded through the JARC Program. It is critical the JARC Program is seen as long-term funding source. Otherwise, important transit services tailored to low-income workers will vanish, as will their means to greater employment options and self-sufficiency.
As mentioned above, much of the matching funding for JARC is through the TANF Program, a completely separate federal funding program. To ensure the coordination emphasized by the JARC program, it is important these two sources are always viewed together.
It would be more effective if JARC funds could be applied for along with other federal transit funding, and reporting guidelines consistent with these programs. This would allow even better integration with other transit services, and allow JARC funded projects to be more easily reviewed in context with services funded through other programs. While we believe a formula method for dispersing JARC funds would make this process more efficient, this could greatly reduce the amount of funds our State is receiving and seriously jeopardize continuation of existing services. If a decision is made to formulize the JARC Program, we hope that FTA will take into account past funding levels.
And despite considerable progress, however, there remain over 68,000 welfare recipients in the State, and, according to the Stateís welfare office, approximately 15,500 of these are adults that could potentially transition to work activities. While some of these Marylanders remaining on welfare may be the more difficult cases due to length of time on welfare, limited education, or other factors, with the necessary support services in place, including transportation, Maryland is committed to assisting its remaining welfare recipients transition towards gainful employment and to assisting those with minimum wage positions work towards higher wages and more stable employment. These specific transportation needs still remain:
Recommendations Regarding Continuation of the Program
With the approach of the re-authorization of the nation's highway and transit programs, we offer the following recommendations concerning the Job Access and Reverse Commute Program:
In conclusion, while we have focused today on how the Jobs Access and Reverse Commute Program has been benefited Maryland specifically, we know from our conversations and correspondence with other states and regions that we are not the only ones who face this transportation challenge, and have used the program successfully to address it. In a nation devoted to automobiles, we must challenge ourselves to remember the plight of those without them, and act to assure that transportation does not become of the impediments to successful integration into our economy and great society.
Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you today.
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