After a year of unstable funding, the Independent Living Center is applying to restore the state support for its voucher transportation program.
The center, which has locations in Homer, Seward and Soldotna, operates a voucher program to reduce the cost of taxi rides for seniors and those with disabilities.
Participants can purchase vouchers for $4 that are good for $12 of cab rides, supported by Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities funds.
The organization has operated the voucher program on the central Kenai Peninsula since 1998.
The Department of Transportation offers grants through several funds. The one the ILC is applying through is called a Human Services grant. The state requires that communities submit a prioritized list of projects for funding, from which the DOT will pick the projects it can fund by order of priority. During a grant competition scuffle last year with the Central Area Rural Transit System, a public on-demand transportation nonprofit based on Kalifornsky Beach Road near Kenai, the center did not receive the funding it usually does, putting the program at risk.
This year, CARTS chose not to apply for the same funds, and ILC is the only applicant. Joyanna Geisler, the executive director of ILC, said during a community prioritization meeting Thursday that the center is seeking $50,000 for the Homer voucher program and $90,000 for the central peninsula, both matched by the fees riders pay for the vouchers.
Some programs, like Medicaid transportation, only allow riders to use funds for specific trips, such as going to medical appointments. Riders can use the ILC vouchers however they want, Geisler explained to the group.
“If they want to use them all up in one week to go to work or whatever, it’s up to them how they use the vouchers,” she said. “…that’s part of our independent living philosophy.”
Last year, 136 people in Homer used the voucher program, more than half of whom were beneficiaries of the Alaska Mental Health Trust, Geisler said. On the central peninsula, there were 269 users, who were also more than half Mental Health Trust beneficiaries. The program in Seward works similarly but is smaller, and will be discussed in a separate meeting there, she said.
The group approved the projects to go to the Department of Transportation and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly for local support. When multiple agencies compete for the grants, the resolution provides local support for the application.
The community meeting was led by a group of citizens called the Kenai Peninsula Transportation Task Force who have been trying to better coordinate and design public transportation on the central Kenai Peninsula for the past several years. Currently, CARTS is the only public transportation provider on the central peninsula, and several evaluations of transportation needs in the area — including the borough’s recent Healthcare Task Force and several community organizations on substance abuse and homelessness this summer — have identified it as a high priority.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.