ECATS ceases food aid transport

Published 5:45 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2005

By By Adam Prestridge
Atmore residents who rely on the Escambia County Area Transit Service (ECATS) to register for food stamps in Brewton will have to find another ride from now on.
Monday morning, Escambia County Department of Human Resources director, Lynn Barnes, received a letter from ECATS director Steve Yuhasz stating that the transportation service would no longer be available to food stamp recipients at no charge. The Department of Transportation has said that ECATS can't transport for free unless it's job related as part of the county's jobs program.
"How that affects us is that the people that are part of the jobs program can ride the ECATS bus for free, but the folks that were riding for free that were coming for food stamps are no longer going to be able to ride for free, they're going to have to pay."
For those food stamp recipients that choose to take ECATS for food-related matters would have to pay $10 round trip.
"Trips for job related matters would be compensated trips, but trips for food matters would not be compensated," Yuhasz said.
Prior to this happening, Barnes had been in touch with the county administrator and the county commission to find an office space in Atmore.
"Every time I would go to Atmore and talk to various community groups and organizations, the need was always presented that DHR needed an office in Atmore to service clients," Barnes said. "We used to have an office in Atmore and due to budget cuts and other things the office was closed down, which caused the Atmore people to have to travel all the way to Brewton or to pay somebody to get services. When you start looking at the statistical data for just the food assistance program over the past three to five years, the trend has been for the number of food stamp households in Atmore to decrease."
Barnes said that when those types of results are reflected it typically indicates that a boost to the economy has occurred or more people have jobs.
"It's really to the contrary in Atmore because the closing of businesses such as K-Mart and the recent layoffs at Masland," she said. "All of those things indicate that there continues to be a need based on the economy."
There are approximately 1,100 food stamp households in Atmore. Barnes said she is unaware of how many of those households utilize ECATS for transportation.
"Questions were raised about some clients being transported and we needed clarification," Yuhasz said. "So we asked the appropriate authorities the questions and got clarification on it."
As a result of the changes, Barnes said the DHR is working even harder to get a couple of workers in the Atmore area to interview for food stamps.
"We're trying to respond in the best way we can, which is to offer the Atmore area food stamp service," she said. "My staff is overly supportive of these efforts. They have been more than willing to divide caseloads and shifts and duties. They've been more than willing to be flexible to work this out."
Barnes said several county agencies are working with DHR to alleviate the problem quickly.
"The county commission is very supportive in trying to expedite this whole process to find space so that we can hopefully get something up and running in the Atmore area fairly quick," she said.
Yuhasz said ECATS is willing to work with Atmore residents until they are able to make alternate arrangements.
"We're trying to develop a reasonable extension to give people enough notice," Barnes said. "Our desire is to help people until they have their facts and weigh their options, that's what ECATS is here for, to help the public."

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