FRAN ALLEGRA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF OUR KIDS OF MIAMI-DADE/MONROE, INC. AND JUDGE CINDY LEDERMAN, CHIEF ADMINISTRATIVE DEPENDENCY JUDGE, REGARDING CHILDREN TRANSITIONING OUT OF FOSTER CARE: INDEPENDENT LIVING
Audrey M. Edmonson, Prime Sponsor
Transit, Infrastructure & Roads Committee
Ms. Fran Allegra, Executive Director, Our Kids, Inc of Miami-Dade/Monroe, appeared and noted Our Kids, Inc was a non-profit agency that contracts with the State of Florida for foster care services in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties. She noted over 600 youth in Miami had transitioned out of foster care and became active participants in the State of Florida “Road to Independence” scholarship program. Ms. Allegra noted the youth participating in this scholarship program were passionate, full-time students attending various local schools, and had benefited as well from the County’s Fare Free Transit Pass pilot program for the past year.
Ms. Allegra outlined the program requirements, including the approximate $1,200 monthly stipend that must be used to rent an apartment and budget living expenses. She noted the free transit pass provided by the County enabled students who could not afford to buy or maintain a vehicle on those limited resources, to get around, manage their resources better, and continue being productive citizens, which was the entire goal of the scholarship program. She further noted this program supported students from ages 18 to 23, and she desired to see the County’s Fare Free Transit Pass Program follow the students through those years as well. Ms. Allegra requested that some of the youth present in the audience today be allowed to speak.
Chairwoman Jordan permitted two students to speak.
Ms. Julia Villamizar, a former foster child, appeared and spoke in support of the County’s Fare Free Transit Pass program.
Ms. Maria Rosado, a former foster child, appeared and spoke in support of the County’s Fare Free Transit Pass program. She indicated that some schools did not receive transit discounts and students had to pay full fare, but noted money saved from receiving a free bus pass could help them pay for other necessities.
Commissioner Sorenson commended the youth for appearing today and participating in this process. She also commended them for wanting to improve their lives and become productive citizens. She said she wanted them to understand the County’s dilemma concerning a need to cut over $200 million in programs due to insufficient tax revenues to pay for them, and particularly concerning a deficit in Transit’s budget and how to fund this program. She inquired what it would cost annually for the County to continue this program.
Mr. Clinton Forbes, Assistant to the Director, Miami-Dade Transit (MDT), noted during the one-year pilot program, Transit issued $320K in transit passes, which was considered foregone revenue or lost opportunity, assuming every student provided a free transit pass would have purchased one.
In response to Commissioner Sorenson’s questions regarding a deficit in Transit’s budget and whether MDT had offered any recommendations for funding this program, Mr. Harpal Kapoor, MDT Director, noted Transit’s budget this year was balanced, but the department would experience problems in next year’s budget due to less revenues received from Sales Tax and the People’s Transportation Plan (PTP). He also noted MDT was working on a recommendation to fund this program through a Community-Based Organization (CBO).
Commissioner Edmonson noted Agenda Item 2H, an item sponsored by her, offered a funding solution.
Chairwoman Jordan commended the youth present today for their determination to become productive citizens; for recognizing their self-worth and the importance of obtaining an education; and for learning how to budget $1,200. She emphasized she did not want any students to feel their efforts had gone unnoticed by the County Commission, and encouraged them to stay the course and, as prospective taxpayers, to hold their elected officials accountable to them.
Vice Chairman Gimenez commended the students for appearing before their elected officials today to express their concerns. Referring to a statement by one speaker that some schools were not eligible to receive transit fare discounts, Vice Chairman Gimenez asked if MDT offered a discount program to students purchasing transit passes.
Assistant County Manager Ysela Llort noted part of MDT’s fare structure included discount rates for students attending universities, but she could not say which schools participated in that program.
Mr. Clinton Forbes noted that select schools participated in a college discount program, which offered students a 50% discount on transit fares.
In response to Vice Chairman Gimenez questions regarding the criteria for schools to participate in the college discount program; if schools paid anything for it, and whether the University of Miami (U of M) was a participant, Mr. Forbes noted schools were not required to pay anything, but only needed to contact MDT directly to participate in the program. He affirmed that U of M participated in this program.
In response to Vice Chairman Gimenez’ question regarding whether the $320K annual cost to fund this program represented full fare or half fare discounts, Mr. Forbes noted it represented both. Mr. Forbes also noted MDT worked with Our Kids, Inc to determine the number of participants that qualified for full fare or discounted passes; and of the 4,118 total passes issued during the pilot program, 3,092 were full fare passes and 1,026 were discount passes, which totaled $320K.
In response to Vice Chairman Gimenez’ question as to whether those who received full fare passes were students attending institutions not recognized or participating in MDT’s fare discount program, Mr. Forbes noted MDT provided Our Kids, Inc with a population breakdown to be used to determine which students qualified for a discount, and Our Kids, Inc determined that 500 students did not qualify for a discount during the demonstration period and returned those passes to MDT. Mr. Forbes noted MDT was able to qualify those students for other free fare programs, as the Golden Passport program, but MDT only accounted for those passes issued to students during the pilot program, as a discount.
Vice Chairman Gimenez stated he believed in getting a return on his investment, and felt the County would receive no greater return than to invest in the education of its youth which would help them to become productive members of society. He noted he supported this program, provided it was very controlled and was only intended to help kids transitioning out of foster care to attend school full-time.
Ms. Allegra ensured Committee members that a student must meet all criteria of the State’s Road to Independence Scholarship Program in order to be eligible for the Fare Free Transit Pass program. She noted Our Kids, Inc was accountable to the State of Florida for managing those guidelines, and ensuring only eligible children benefited from the programs was in the agency’s best interest.
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