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Transportation: The Vital Link

Transportation consistently shows up as a barrier to accessing health care and other services, especially in rural areas. It also has been identified as a major impediment to gaining and sustaining employment for families on welfare. And it is cited in community and state human service needs assessments on a regular basis. Despite its prominence as a recognized problem, comprehensive solutions have been elusive.... It appears that much of the problem can be resolved with effective leadership and collaboration among public and private agencies currently delivering transportation services. Without such leadership initiatives, however, it is likely to remain a problem that continues to be passed around with no one entity accepting ownership to resolve it.
(Southern Institute on Children and Families, 1998)

Low-income families who have participated in Southern Institute studies have consistently indicated that lack of transportation restricts their opportunities by limiting access to employment, education, job training, health care, health coverage and child care. Likewise, public agency officials also have indicated that lack of transportation impedes self sufficiency and restricts access to needed benefits and services.

During interviews in 1993 with families receiving Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee, 21 percent of participating families identified transportation as the most important benefit they needed to accept a full-time job. Despite public transportation systems and multiple programs with transportation components available in these urban communities, families still cited lack of transportation as the major barrier to their employment.

On state site visits conducted in 17 southern states and the District of Columbia in 1997, health and human service officials and community organizations expressed frustration at their inability to resolve transportation issues and meet the needs of the families they served.

The Southern Institute believes the need for improved transportation services for low-income individuals and families must be elevated on the public policy agenda. It is particularly critical for policymakers and business and community leaders to recognize that assisting low-income families with transportation is an essential work support service.

The Southern Institute is seeking funding of a southern regional transportation initiative to more aggressively address transportation issues and the impact of lack of transportation on family well-being and economic development in the southern region. The Southern Institute wishes to involve representatives of state and federal agencies and regional advocacy groups and experts from the fields of transportation and health and human services in a collaboration initiative that brings a sense of urgency to address these long-standing issues. The Southern Institute has a track record for providing leadership and facilitating collaboration among southern states and is well positioned to elevate the important issue of transportation to achieve long awaited action on behalf of low-income families and children across the southern region.

For more information, see the Southern Institute's resulting report published in February 1998, Southern Regional Initiative to Improve Access to Benefits for Low Income Families with Children.

Reports of Interest

Helping Families Achieve Self-Sufficiency: A Guide on Funding Services for Children and Families Through the TANF Program, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance, 1999.

Shuptrine, Sarah C., Mayersville, Mississippi: A Study on Improving Access to Benefits and Services for Low-Income Families in the Rural South, Southern Institute on Children and Families, June 1999.