J.B. Wogan
By J.B. Wogan July 23, 2012

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.

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson December 14, 2009

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.

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