Welfare Reform

Implementing DOT's Access to Jobs Program Gao ID: RCED-99-36 December 8, 1998

Welfare reform specialists contend that transportation is an important element in moving people from welfare to work. Three-fourths of welfare recipients live in either central cities or rural areas, while two-thirds of the new jobs are in the suburbs. The effects of this geographic mismatch are compounded by the low rate of car ownership among welfare recipients. The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century authorized a welfare-to-work program known as the Access to Jobs and Reverse Commute Program. The program will provide grants to local agencies and authorities, nonprofit groups, and transit authorities to improve mobility for employment. GAO is required to review the program every six months. This, the first report in response to this requirement, describes the Transportation Department's (1) overall plan to distribute Access to Jobs funds among grantees in urban and rural areas; (2) criteria to award specific Access to Jobs grants to states, localities, and other organizations; (3) efforts to coordinate the Access to Jobs program with other welfare-to-work programs; and (4) proposals to evaluate the program's success.

GAO noted that: (1) DOT has decided it will distribute the $75 million available for the program in fiscal year 1999 to as many people as possible by setting suggested limits on the amount areas can receive on the basis of their population levels; (2) under this approach, DOT intends to provide first-year grants that average $1 million for large urban areas and $150,000 for rural areas; (3) DOT will use four key criteria for evaluating grant applications on the basis of their merits; (4) DOT will assess each grant application and assign points on the basis of these criteria, as well as bonus program components such as particularly innovative transportation approaches; (5) whether these criteria will enable DOT to make sufficient distinctions among the many applications it expects is unclear; (6) accordingly, DOT may use other factors; (7) however, DOT may unintentionally suggest that merit-based criteria used to score applications are less important than other factors that are not based on merit; (8) DOT has made efforts to coordinate its Access to Jobs program with other welfare-to-work programs; (9) DOT established a policy council of representatives from four other federal agencies and the White House and it met with local human service organizations; (10) because grantees can use other federal funds to match the DOT's grants, sustained coordination between DOT and other federal agencies, as well as sustained collaboration among local agencies, is critical for ensuring the effective use of federal welfare-to-work programs; (11) as part of its evaluation effort, DOT will require Access to Jobs grantees to collect data on four important program outputs: (a) the number of new and expand transportation services; (b) the number of jobs made accessible by public transportation to the targeted riders; (c) the number of people using the new transportation services; and (d) the level of collaboration achieved; and (12) however, the data alone will not be sufficient to measure the program's overall success because DOT has yet to establish goals or benchmarks against which the cumulative data on new routes, new system users, and newly accessible jobs can be compared.

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