From welfare to entrepreneurship Van pool: Anne Arundel County offers creative ways to reform public assistance.

March 19, 1997

ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY'S Department of Social Services has developed some clever and creative programs to move people from welfare to work in recent years. Its latest effort -- using federal money to finance a van-pool service run by former welfare recipients -- is particularly intriguing and deserving of accolades.

The program, known as the AdVANtage, not only would transform welfare recipients into business people, it would also provide an invaluable service to others on welfare who need transportation to school, jobs or training.

Officials are in the process of locating potential entrepreneurs among clients in the county's training programs. With technical help from the Community Transportation Association of America, a non-profit organization, officials hope to have the company operating and the vans rolling this summer.

Starting a business is risky; one launched by people with minimal business experience even more so. Although Social Services clients on workfare and training programs will provide a base of business, the van service will have to generate other contracts to stay afloat. The cost of fuel, insurance and repairs can reduce profit margins in the transportation field to pennies. These budding entrepreneurs will be assuming quite a challenge.

Nevertheless, County Executive John G. Gary and his welfare department have recognized that if government truly hopes to turn welfare recipients into productive workers, it must take some calculated risks and address the impediments preventing those on welfare from working. One hurdle in a suburb like Anne Arundel County has been the lack of reliable transportation for low-wage workers. Mr. Gary's earlier program of selling surplus county vehicles to welfare recipients was one creative use of resources to solve a real problem.

It would have been simpler for government to fall back on its own welfare mentality; that is, for the county department to take the grant from Uncle Sam and pay existing businesses to transport local clients. Transforming the grant into seed money for a van company requires more time, energy and hassle. The results, however, have the potential of being much more rewarding for the county, taxpayers and the entrepreneurs it may foster.

Pub Date: 3/19/97

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