Saturday, December 20th, 2014

The Obameter

Double federal program to help "reverse" commuters who go from city to suburbs


"Will double the federal Jobs Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) program to ensure that additional federal public transportation dollars flow to the highest-need communities and that urban planning initiatives take this aspect of transportation policy into account. JARC funds have been used to connect low-income workers around the country with job opportunities."


Updates

Program is eliminated, but projects' future less clear

As a candidate, Barack Obama said he would double the money going to the federal Jobs Access and Reverse Commute program.

What does the program do? In general, buses and minivans give people from low-income neighborhoods rides to areas with jobs. It's called a reverse commute because it typically involves people from the inner city traveling out to the suburbs. This can mean starting new routes in neighborhoods without good access to public transportation or operating existing routes at odd hours, such as late at night or early in the morning.

"We asked for a doubling of the program and we didn't get that,” said Mantill Williams, a spokesman for the American Public Transportation Association, a public transit lobbying group.

The program won't even exist soon. The Transportation Department is shifting the money to general urbanized and rural formula grant programs. The change comes as part of Obama signing the transportation bill in July, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century.

About $165 million went to the Job Access and Reverse Commute program this year. Next year, no money is obligated to go that specific purpose. The two new large grant programs will get $372 million, and job access and reverse commute projects are eligible to receive some of that money.

We weren't sure what that really meant for the core purpose of the original program. Would federal money still pay for transporting low-income people to jobs elsewhere? We called around to transportation lobbying groups who follow the issue closely. They said it would be difficult to know, now that there isn't an explicit "set-aside” program for tracking money going to that purpose.

We also contacted Laraine Vance, the planning division manager for Cobb County Transportation Department near Atlanta, Ga. Cobb County received $600,000 in 2012 for a bus route through the Job Access and Reverse Commute program. Vance was just as in the dark about the long-term implications as everyone else we interviewed.

"We don't know at this point how it would flow down to the recipients,” Vance said.

All we know for sure is that the program itself is gone and the projects it funded have become eligible recipients for an even larger pot of federal money, with no guarantee on how much they will actually get. That's a far cry from doubling an existing federal program. We rate this a Promise Broken.

Sources:

Email interview with David Goldberg, communications director for Transportation for America, July 23, 2012

Email interview with Carolyn Jeskey, director of the Joblinks Employment Transportation Center at the Community Transportation Association of America, July 20, 2012

Email interview with Meghan Keck, deputy director of public affairs at the Transportation Department, July 20, 2012

Interview with Laraine Vance, planning division manager for Cobb County Transportation Department, July 23, 2012

Interview with Jim Jaquish, senior communications coordinator for the Atlanta Regional Commission, July 23, 2012   

Community Transportation Association of America, MAP-21 Analysis

BarackObama.com, Barack Obama and Joe Biden: Strengthening America's Transportation Infrastructure, Improve Transportation Access to Jobs

Government Accountability Office, Job Access and Reverse Commute Program: Progress Made in Using Funds and Stakeholder Views on Proposed Program Changes, May 2011

Transportation Department, Federal Transit Administration, Job Access and Reverse Commute Program (5316)

Community Transportation Association of America, A Brief History of the Job Access and Reverse Commute Program

Transportation Department, Federal Highway Administration, Regional Job Access and Reverse Commute Planning: North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority and New Jersey Workfirst Program, 2000

Government Printing Office, Transportation Department, Fiscal Year 2009 Budget

Government Printing Office, Transportation Department, Fiscal Year 2010 Budget

Government Printing Office, Transportation Department, Fiscal Year 2011 Budget

Government Printing Office, Transportation Department, Fiscal Year 2012 Budget

Government Printing Office, Transportation Department, Fiscal Year 2013 budget

Joblinks Employment Transportation Initiative, Employment Transportation Briefs, A Guide to the Job Access and Reverse Commute Program

Boost for Jobs Access and Reverse Commute program in limbo as lawmakers squabble over transportation bill

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to double the federal Jobs Access and Reverse Commute program, known as JARC.

The JARC program was established to aid low-income Americans seeking to obtain and maintain employment. Under the program, states, other public entities, nonprofits and transportation authorities may receive funds to help pay for capital and operating expenses for projects that transport low-income individuals to and from jobs or for "reverse commuting." Many entry-level jobs are located in suburban areas that can be hard to get to from urban or rural neighborhoods, especially during off-peak commuting hours.

The program, initially funded at $14.1 million in fiscal year 1999, rose to $165 million by fiscal year 2009.

A Transportation Department spokeswoman said that keeping this promise will wait until a new transportation reauthorization bill materializes. But that could take awhile.

Typically, every five or six years, Congress passes a new "authorization" bill that sets transportation priorities every five or six years. The most recent one expired Sept. 30, 2009, and it has been extended twice -- with its current provisions unchanged -- in order to give lawmakers time to craft a new version. The most recent extension runs through Dec. 18, 2009, and it is widely expected that another extension will be needed.

The problem is that lawmakers and the White House differ over the basic shape of the next reauthorization bill, especially whether Congress should act immediately on a major, multiyear reauthorization or instead enact a medium-term extension, perhaps lasting 18 months. The continuing burden of other urgent legislative priorities -- from health care reform to climate change legislation to financial regulation and job-creation -- makes passage of a new reauthorization bill, and any additional support for programs like JARC, unlikely any time soon.

JARC may indeed get its boost some day, but with the reauthorization bill in limbo, this promise is in limbo, too. We rate it Stalled.

Sources:

Transportation Department, "JARC Allocations and Apportionments" ( Web page ), accessed Dec. 14, 2009

Transportation Department, "Job Access and Reverse Commute Program" ( Web page ), accessed Dec. 14, 2009

League of California Cities, " Federal Transportation Reauthorization Still Pending ," Nov. 6, 2009

E-mail interview with Olivia Alair, Transportation Department spokeswoman, Dec. 7, 2009