Intercity Transit is offering discounted bus passes to social service agencies, after state Medicaid cuts threatened to end subsidized passes for many.
The transit authority’s board voted to approve $100,000 to subsidize bus passes in a one-year trial program it will re-evaluate next year. The authority will offer monthly bus passes to local social service agencies at half price – $15 apiece.
The agencies can, in turn, subsidize the remainder of the cost and offer the passes to low-income people for free.
Intercity Transit General Manager Mike Harbour said the program could make 6,700 subsidized passes available next year.
“We have never done this in the past,” Harbour said. “It’s just the state of the economy right now.”
Judi Hoefling, community relations director for Behavioral Health Resources, said her organization and others petitioned Intercity Transit for the passes.
“Because the state has changed the way it matches Medicaid money, the bus passes were eliminated, for the most part,” said Hoefling, who is also a member of the Tumwater City Council. It’s a result of the state matching fewer Medicaid dollars due to state budget cuts, she said.
The cuts affect about 2,200 people in Thurston County receiving services from Behavioral Health Resources, she said, and 70 percent of them make less than $10,000 per year. Most of them make less than $5,000, she said.
“It’s definitely a very poverty-stricken group of people,” she said. “To take away the bus passes was to basically confine them to homes” unless they could access Dial-a-Lift or other specialty programs, she said.
The passes will be distributed by qualifying social service agencies, not Intercity Transit. Agencies must apply to receive the passes by Dec. 22.
“They have to put in an application” to qualify, Harbour said. “It could be competitive depending on the number that we have.”
Qualifying agencies must be located in Intercity Transit’s service area and agree to subsidize 50 percent of the cost of the passes. Passes will begin to be distributed in February.
Harbour said the agency will re-evaluate the program around August to determine whether to continue or modify it.
Hoefling was thankful for the transit agency’s action.
It’s “one of those feel-good stories,” she said.
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 firstname.lastname@example.org