The Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, signed by President Clinton in 1996, changed social welfare policy throughout the United States. The Act requires most welfare recipients to work as a condition of receiving public assistance. Under the Act, the Federal Government provides funding to states in the form of block grants based on a combination of past federal expenditures on public assistance programs. The cash grant component of the Act is known as the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. States are responsible for creating their own public assistance programs and establishing eligibility and benefit levels. A more complete description of welfare reform and its impacts is found in Appendix A.
State, regional and local officials face significant challenges as they develop programs to meet local needs within the guidelines of the TANF program. These challenges include:
- A gap between the number of people seeking jobs and the number of suitable jobs available.
- The "spatial mismatch" between the locations of people seeking jobs and the locations of suitable jobs.
- The availability of jobs with wages that permit families to leave public assistance.
- The series of transportation concerns encountered by welfare recipients as they progress from job readiness training to part-time, full-time, and long-term jobs.
Planners have begun to recognize the critical role of transportation in linking people to employment. Historically, social service and other welfare organizations discounted the connection between transportation and welfare issues, emphasizing simple, short-term solutions, such as repairing a decrepit automobile or purchasing bus passes. Welfare reform has prompted social service organizations to analyze the adequacy of current transportation services, and to consider the opportunity to develop new, sustainable transportation services that will support a wider range of needs.
The metropolitan planning process takes a multi-jurisdictional approach to problem solving, engaging a wide variety of organizations in planning efforts and exploring a wide array of transportation services. This process is the appropriate venue to address job access needs.