The New Freedom Program is a new program authorized in Safe Accountable Flexibile and Efficient Transportation Equity Act, a Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) to support new public transportation services and public transportation alternatives beyond those required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12101 et. seq.). This program is codified at 49 U.S.C. 5317.
The New Freedom Program grew out of the New Freedom Initiative introduced by the Bush Administration under Executive Order 13217, “Community-Based Alternatives for Individuals with Disabilities,” on June 18, 2001. The Order states: “The United States is committed to community-based alternatives for individuals with disabilities and recognizes that such services advance the best interests of the United States” and calls upon the Federal government to assist States and localities to swiftly implement the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Olmstead v. L.C.
Executive Order 13217 directed six Federal agencies, including the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, Education, Labor, Housing and Urban Development and the Social Security Administration to “evaluate the policies, programs, statutes and regulations of their respective agencies to determine whether any should be revised or modified to improve the availability of community-based services for qualified individuals with disabilities.” The Departments of Transportation and Veterans Affairs, the Small Business Administration, and the Office of Personnel Management, though not named in the Executive Order, also joined in the implementation effort. Together, these agencies formed the Interagency Council on Community Living under the leadership of the DHHS.
Individuals who are transportation-disadvantaged face different challenges in accessing services depending on whether they live in urban, rural, or suburban areas. The geographic dispersion of transportation-disadvantaged populations also creates challenges for human service programs hoping to deliver transportation for their passengers.
Over the years, in response to these challenges, Federal, State and local governments, and community-based organizations created specialized programs to meet particular transportation needs. At the Federal level alone, there are at least 62 separate programs, administered by eight Federal departments, and even more agencies, that provide special transportation services to individuals with disabilities, older adults, and people with low incomes. Most of these are human service programs that fund limited transportation services to provide eligible participants with access to particular services, such as job training, health care, senior centers, or rehabilitation programs.
President Bush included funds for the New Freedom Program in the annual budget request to Congress since FY 2003; however, it was not until the enactment of SAFETEA–LU that funding was authorized by Congress. Funding was first appropriated for the transportation provision in Fiscal Year 2006. The New Freedom Program is intended to fill the gaps between human service and public transportation services previously available and to facilitate the integration of individuals with disabilities into the workforce and full participation in the community.