San Augustine - Deep East Texas Council of Government (DETCOG) Board Members received a report on the agency’s Pilot Transit Voucher Program conducted in Sabine, San Augustine, Jasper, Newton and Tyler Counties. The presentation was made by Natalie Villwock-Witte from the Western Transportation Institute (WTI) at Montana State University which consulted on the project.
Willock-Witte started her presentation with consumer spending statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that consumers were spending 16% of their income on transportation in 2016. She made the point that low income households often had trouble paying for housing, food and medicine. The most recent American Community Survey showed that 6% of the households in DETCOG Counties did not have a vehicle at their disposal. The Area Agency on Aging (AAA) Transit Voucher Program was started because the low-income seniors in the region had difficulty accessing health care, were often socially isolated and had a lack of health food choices. Some participated in the AAA “meals-on-wheels” program because of this.
Sabine, San Augustine, Jasper, Newton and Tyler Counties were chosen for the pilot program because they had small populations with high percentages of seniors, veterans and people with disabilities. They also have average household incomes twenty-five percent below the state average, high percentages of the disabled and no existing public transportation options.
Participants in the Pilot Transit Voucher Program had to be 60 years of age or older. They were given vouchers worth $150.00 a month ($1,800 a year) which they could use for medical appointments, grocery shopping, personal care appointments, socializing, banking or trips to the post office. The program started in May 2018 with rides initially the provided by two regional Medicaid Transportation companies and qualified private individuals serving as volunteers. DETCOG paid over $5,000.00 in one month for rides for the fifty participants that had been qualified and enrolled in the program by November.
The transit vouchers were used mostly for medical (44%), shopping (36%) and social trips (11%). Additional benefits from the program came from DETCOG staff being able to identify other programs the applicants qualified for, like SNAP (Food Stamps) and to allow participants to access those benefits.
Willock-Witte concluded her report saying that the program was continuing, but was dependant on funds available to DETCOG’s Area Agency on Aging and thereby restricted to individuals 60 years of age and older. She said that diversifying funding sources would be important to the future of the program and to be able to expand it to address the needs of those younger than sixty.