Feb. 28--BARTA plans to suspend a program that provides state-sponsored medical transportation for about 6,000 welfare recipients in Berks County until it gets more funding or the state allows it to make changes that would cut costs.
The move came after BARTA Executive Director Dennis D. Louwerse told the board Monday that continuing the program would put BARTA on the hook for $2.2 million a year.
The board voted 7-0 to suspend the program as of March 31 and send notifications to those who use the service. Board members Michael Roeberg and Philip D. Rowe Jr. were absent.
Through the program, the state Department of Public Welfare pays BARTA to take welfare recipients to medical appointments. But, Louwerse said, the state is paying less while costs are going up, which means BARTA has to shoulder the difference.
"This is DPW's (Department of Public Welfare) program; they're supposed to pay for it," Louwerse said.
Louwerse said he requested limiting the program to in-county trips and other cost-saving measures, but the state denied the request.
"This is not only about dollars," he said. "I feel sorry for the people who need this service. This is about reform. This program has been running away like a train for a long time."
BARTA isn't alone.
At least 30 transit systems statewide are having trouble funding the program, the Pennsylvania Public Transportation Association said in a press release last week. Red Rose Transit Authority, which serves Lancaster County, announced earlier this month that it will suspend the service.
Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman Anne Bale said the department is working with counties and transit agencies to get the issue resolved.
"We are trying to work through it and find a way to meet this need," she said.
Louwerse said he's not sure yet whether suspending the program will mean BARTA will reduce the number of its drivers or make other changes. The program accounts for about 30 percent of special service operations, which include everything except fixed-route buses.
BARTA board members spoke against the funding cuts at Monday's meeting.
"They talk about waste and fraud in DPW; is this really waste and fraud?" asked Berks County Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt, who serves on the board. "The 87-year-old woman who needs dialysis is waste and fraud?"
Contact Liam Migdail-Smith: 610-371-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2012 - Reading Eagle, Pa.