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Published: Wednesday, 1/24/2001

Cars are going to 50 welfare recipients

BY MIKE JONES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

For some struggling Lucas County families, getting around town will be a little easier under a new welfare-to-work program.

In the coming months, about 50 people receiving government aid will get an additional boost when they get a car from a program run by the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments.

For Lashonda Boykin, owning a car will mean being able to accept overtime at the last minute, the ability to meet doctor appointments, and the opportunity to go to the grocery store without having to rely on others.

Ms. Boykin, 22, has two children who need transportation to different places while she's on the job.

She works for a firm that specializes in cleaning construction sites. That requires her to report to sites when the company gets a new contract.

“My boss used to pick me up for work and said I might be in line for a supervisor's job, but he hasn't been able to pick me up for the last couple of weeks.”

Ms. Boykin and others rely on friends and a program - Commuter Link - run by the metropolitan area council of governments for transportation to and from work sites, “but you can spend a lot of time arranging transportation, and sometimes it falls through.

“Sometimes a boss will ask if you can work a little overtime, but you know a cab is coming to get you, and you can't just tell the cab to go along.

“I could use the extra money, but I have to take the cab to get home,” she added. Recipients ride buses when they can, but must use taxis if bus service isn't available.

Ms. Boykin, who lives near Manhattan Boulevard and Stickney Avenue, said she hasn't been told what she'll have to do to receive a car, “but I'll do whatever it is.

“People who don't have a car don't know how hard it can be just to get groceries,” she said.

If she qualifies, she will have to take a course in car maintenance and pay $100 a month for a year for the used vehicle that the council of governments will buy for no more than $3,000.

The car-ownership program is available only to those who have held a job for more than six months and have reached a point where they are nearly self-sufficient. Anyone with a drunk-driving conviction in the last three years will not be eligible.

TMACOG will retain the title for the first year, pay insurance premiums, and take care of any major repairs, such as a malfunction that seriously disables the vehicle.

No written criteria define major repairs, but a recipient would be responsible for such repairs as an engine tune-up or damaged radiator hose. At the end of the year, the person will receive the car's title and pay insurance and maintenance costs.

During the first year, TMACOG will make monthly inspections to ensure that the vehicle is in working order.

George Steger, head of the county's job and family service department, through which the program is funded, said the car “should be their last step in becoming independent.”

Once someone gets a car, they are no longer eligible for the Commuter Link program that transports about 850 adults to and from jobs daily. In the event the vehicle is disabled, the recipient would rely on Commuter Link for transportation, until the vehicle is repaired. That program has a budget of about $2.7 million a year and keeps three council employees busy each day trying to manage logistics of the operation. With the car-ownership program, the staff will be expanded by four, officials said, adding that the staff will provide a support network for the recipient to effect the eventual transformation to owner

Sandy Isenberg, president of the board of county commissioners, said she was one of those who was initially critical, “but it will save us money and will make people finally independent, which is the goal of welfare-to-work.”

Kathy Mehl directs the council of government's transportation program and will oversee the car-ownership aspect.

She said there are no complaints about the goal of getting people off public assistance and into the workplace, but the process isn't simple when it involves arranging for care for children and transportation to work.

The idea of supplying inexpensive vehicles is relatively new, but is being used in other cities as a means of reducing overall transportation costs and making people self-sufficient, she said.

Judy Colemon, director of TRIP, a similar system in Cincinnati, said, “It has been a good program for us.” It has been under way there for about three years. She said the organization is still learning how to operate the system, “but we have a waiting list for people who want to get into the program. We know it works.”

The contract approved by the commissioners calls for a payment of $433,000 to TMACOG to run the program.



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