Road map to get clients off welfare Program will provide start-up money for van business

'Make a difference'

Transport service will help other Job Center clients

March 13, 1997|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

A dozen county welfare recipients may soon get the chance to drive themselves off public assistance with their own commuter van service.

A program to be announced today by the county Department of Social Services would use $90,000 in federal funds to turn the welfare recipients into entrepreneurs by setting them up as van-service operators.

The prospective participants as well as passengers would likely come from the county's Job Center, formerly the welfare office, where residents go for help finding work.

"We see people with a lot of potential come through who lack the access to capital to do these types of enterprises," said Vesta Kimble, deputy director of the Department of Social Services. "They are not looked upon as potentially viable by lending institutions."

At a time when welfare reforms require recipients to look for work, the AdVANtage program would create jobs and provide a way for other welfare recipients to get to work and to interviews, officials said.

Anne Arundel County has been "one of the more creative local areas" in adjusting to the reforms, said Harry Bosk, spokesman for the state Department of Human Resources.

While other counties are turning to creative ways to provide transportation, child care and other services to make it easier for people to work, AdVANtage may be the only program that would help recipients start a transportation services business, Bosk said.

The department plans to use a $90,000 federal grant awarded by private nonprofit transit organization to pay for training and start-up costs for the yet-to-be-chosen entrepreneurs. The department was working out contract details yesterday with the Community Transportation Association of America, the nonprofit organization, Kimble said.

If all goes as planned, the department will soon begin recruiting participants. The YWCA of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County and the YWCA of the Greater Baltimore Area Inc. will train those selected in how to run a business, incorporate, get the proper transportation permits, lease vans and find customers.

The program is designed to help the businesses get through their first year and then become self-sufficient.

"It's a terrific way to not just give people a job, but to give them the opportunity to truly achieve in our economy as a business person," said Dawn Thomson, interim executive director of the YWCA of the Greater Baltimore Area Inc.

Once the drivers and vans are on the road, which could be by July, the Department of Social Services would turn from recruiter to client.

VTC The department could spend as much as $25,000 to hire the van operators to provide low-cost transportation for Job Center clients, Kimble said. The deputy director said paying for van rides would be cheaper than providing cab fare.

To stay in business, the van operators must find clients in private business and from the general public.

One potential market is the concentration of warehouses and light industrial facilities in the Baltimore-Washington International Airport business corridor.

The BWI Business Partnership would "very definitely" be interested in bringing the van company to the area to expand transportation services, said executive director Neil M. Shpritz.

"It's critical," Shpritz said of public transportation. "You have this large work area out here, and you can't always get there from here."

AdVANtage could be expanded to start companies that would serve Baltimore's Empowerment Zone. Another program announced last year uses $1.6 million in federal funds and some city money to buy vans to give East Baltimore residents rides to and from jobs in warehouses and light manufacturing facilities in Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

The Community Transportation Association of America is distributing about $1 million in federal funds this year to programs in six states that will help people get to work, said Scott Bogren, associate director of the association.

"We're looking for something that's self-sustaining," Bogren said. For these grants to really be successful, we're really trying to make them go beyond the year-to-year-and-a-half time period to really make a difference in the community for years to come."

Pub Date: 3/13/97

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