A Metro Transit program offering $1 fares for low-income earners is being extended to those who have been laid off from their jobs, including dismissals related to COVID-19.

The discounted fares for the unemployed will be offered through the Transit Assistance Program, which allows bus and light-rail riders to pay $1 per trip at any time, including rush hours.

Regular bus fares are $2 during nonpeak times and $2.50 during peak periods. On express buses, fares are $2.50 during nonpeak hours and $3.25 during peak periods.

The cheaper fares are not offered on Metro Mobility, the door-to-door service for riders with disabilities. Riders on the Northstar commuter rail receive a partial discount.

The unemployment rate fell to 7.7% in Minnesota in July, down from 8.6% in June on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). But it has remained stubbornly high in Hennepin County, at 8.9% as of July and over 10% in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, according to DEED.

That's what led Metro Transit to offer the discounted fares for the jobless, officials said.

"We are helping people trying to put food on the table and navigate the pandemic," said Andrea Kiepe, Transit Assistance Program manager.

To qualify, riders must apply for a Go-To transit card in person at a Metro Transit service center or online at www.metrotransit.org/tap-enrollment-form. Applicants need to provide documents showing they are receiving unemployment insurance benefits, Kiepe said.

Approved applicants will be mailed a Go-To card that automatically calculates the proper discount when used. The card will be good for a year.

Before the pandemic hit in March, Metro Transit had issued about 20,000 of the reduced-fare cards to residents meeting federal poverty guidelines, which are about $25,000 for individuals and $46,000 for a family of four. About 6,600 cards are used each month, Kiepe said.