Because not everyone can work from home and lack of transportation remains a huge problem, the state of Minnesota awarded $475,000 in car repair grants this week to six agencies determined to help low-income workers get and keep jobs.
The Getting to Work grants, issued through the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), will help the agencies provide, repair or maintain vehicles that assist eligible people obtain or maintain employment.
Most of the funds are headed to agencies in greater Minnesota, where public transportation can be hard to find and where many low-income workers struggle to secure or maintain the vehicles needed to get to work each day.
"This funding will help people across the state take care of themselves and their families by securing or keeping a job without transportation-related barriers getting in the way," said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove in a statement. "These grants are an important part of moving Minnesota's workforce and economy toward a brighter future."
The new grants follow a survey conducted last spring by DEED's CareerForce centers and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Some 58% of 628 respondents reported that a lack of transportation presented "significant" or "moderate" challenges in their efforts to get to work each day.
DEED's largest award, $150,000, will go to Community Action Partnership of Hennepin County.
The money will go toward the agency's vehicle repair program, which last year helped 220 families pay for car repairs totaling up to $1,200 each, said Shanelle Hall, associate director of client services.
"It's been a very busy year for car repairs. With the new funding dollars, we anticipate we'll be able to help even more," said Hall.
The agency also will be able to offer more repair clinics for low-income residents. The effort is the latest expansion of Community Action's Transportation Services Program. It recently updated its program to offer poor residents across the county help with car insurance, gas station cash cards and Metro Transit passes.
DEED also awarded $90,680 to Minnesota Valley Action Council, which serves Mankato and its surrounding counties, and $90,000 to Tri-County Action Program, which serves Benton, Sherburne and Stearns counties.
About 64% of the funds are going to organizations based outside the seven-county metro area, DEED officials said. Affected agencies said they are grateful for the extra aid.
"These grants absolutely will make someone's life better. Transportation is the number one barrier for low-income people to get out of poverty. There is a huge need," said Dan Jones, Minnesota Valley Action Council's transportation initiative administrator.