MOUNT VERNON — Demand has remained high for transportation assistance funds from the federal government, even though the amount of available money has dropped to almost one half of what it was a year ago.
Roger Shooter, director of Knox County Department of Job & Family Services, presented statistics to the Board of Commissioners on Monday showing 2009 figures. Comparison with last year’s statistics show the change in available funds, although Shooter said the long-term picture suggests stabilization.
The majority of the gas vouchers and ride tickets distributed by JFS are for non-emergency transport, which is travel for non-emergency medical purposes, such as appointments with doctors or getting prescriptions filled. The federal funds give clients without transportation fuel reimbursement money for getting rides independently, or tickets for rides on MOTA or Jitterbug. Of the 499 vouchers redeemed in July, 414 of them were for the NET program.
In July 2008, 604 NET vouchers were redeemed, at a cost of $10,605. Although around 500 vouchers were redeemed in the same period this year, the total funding dispersal was down by 38 percent, to $6,622.
An additional 16 vouchers in July were for pregnancy-related services, just over $157. An identical number of PRS vouchers were redeemed in July 2008, for $236. Workforce development vouchers and childrens services vouchers show the same trends.
Shooter said that considering that last year’s spending level was related to the nasty spike in gasoline prices last spring and summer, this year’s figures suggest a return to something closer to normal levels. According to figures cited by Shooter in previous meetings, the total value of vouchers redeemed in 2007 was around $56,000. By October 2008, the $83,000 level had been passed. This year is settling back down to a total, through July, of about $43,000.
Shooter said the employment news wasn’t particularly good, as Ohio still remains at an over 11 percent unemployment rate. The good news is that the rate of job loss appears to be slowing down to a trickle, suggesting that recovery may be imminent.
Commissioner Robert Wise asked Shooter what impact the General Motors plant closing in Ontario would have on Knox County. Shooter said that according to a list supplied to JFS by GM, the total of Knox Countians employed there is 12. Although the loss of these jobs will have a strong impact here, Shooter said it is a smaller number of local residents than was expected. Wise recalled that in the past, there were times when so many local residents worked at the plant, the workers arranged multiple car pools to save on fuel expenses.
New county unemployment figures were released today. In July, the counties of Ohio ranged from Williams County, in the northwest corner of the state, with a 17.5 unemployment rate, to Geauga County, at 7.4 percent. At 10.2 percent, Knox County was above the national 9.7 percent unemployment level.