Advancing Promising Practices to Support Transportation Needs of Families in TANF

By Romuald Lenou Tassigne    March 31, 2023

The Advancing Family Economic Mobility (AFEM) initiative is committed to creating sustainable pathways to economic mobility and well-being for all people and families. As part of that work, APHSA, with the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Doris Duke Foundation, is exploring innovative ways for agencies to dismantle systemic barriers and enable families and the communities they live in to thrive. Lack of access to reliable transportation is one such systemic barrier. In fact, employers cite transportation challenges as the second-most common reason for the turnover of entry-level workers. This blog post assesses the transportation services landscape and highlights practical and promising applications that can alleviate the transportation burdens families face on their path to economic mobility.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant is flexible funding that provides parents and caregivers with cash assistance, employment and training programs, and other important services to meet their needs and support the child and family's well-being.

While families receiving TANF work towards economic mobility, they can encounter employment barriers. One barrier—lack of reliable, affordable transportation—can impede access to services, education, training, and quality jobs, especially for those living in remote or rural areas with limited or no public transit. To address this employment barrier, TANF programs can provide transportation services to families through various mechanisms.

Initially, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Labor (DOL) conceptualized transportation services through a program participants lens, leveraging funding to directly reimburse program participants instead of investing in the transportation infrastructure to address the growing and diverse transportation needs of families. However, more recently, the federal government has encouraged states to develop seamless and integrated transportation support services.

Assessing the Landscape

There are numerous transportation services strategies ranging from direct assistance to families or cross-sector collaboration to developing a resilient transportation infrastructure that can serve all families. The chart below provides a detailed overview:

Strategy Description

Reimbursement for work-related transportation expenses

Reimbursement of mileage, gas, public transit fares, auto repairs/insurance or basic cash allowance for transportation needs, and use of TANF funds to cover administrative costs (e.g., verifying documentation for reimbursement and issuing refunds, monitoring TANF agencies expenses on transportation services) of transport-related activities.

Purchase of work-related transit expenses

Purchase of rider slots, passes, or vouchers on a public or private transit system.

Partnership with transportation services and other related agencies

Contracts for shuttles, buses, and carpools as well as the promotion of employer transportation stipends.

Direct administration of transportation service

Human services agencies purchase vans, shuttles, or minibuses to provide direct transportation services to families with low incomes.

Financial assistance to families to purchase vehicles

Loans or grants to eligible individuals for the lease or purchase of a vehicle, receipt of a donated vehicle to travel to and from work, and for car repairs.

Financial assistance may include one-time, short-term “diversion” payments to assist with the transportation needs of families receiving TANF.

Financial assistance to companies or non-profits

Payment of startup or operating costs for new or expanded transportation services such as private buses or specialized taxi services.

Business Capitalization

Establishment of Individual Development Accounts (IDA) or asset-building programs for families with low incomes to build the capital to purchase transportation services or a personal vehicle for work-related purposes. This strategy establishes saving accounts, fully or partially funded by TANF, for families to utilize for transportation solutions.

Braiding and blending of funding and cost-sharing requirements

Transfer of TANF funds to the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) to address transportation challenges in rural and urban areas. Use of TANF as matching funds for Job Access and Reverse Commute Projects.

Advancing Promising Practices

Many TANF agencies have implemented innovative strategies to address the transportation needs of families. Below is a list of promising practices, including their respective program designs, funding sources, and administrative rules governing the transportation support service:

State/County Program Design Funding Source Administrative Rules

Connecticut Temporary Family Assistance (TFA)

TFA offers ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft to participants enrolled in Employment Services. The agency revised its policy to reimburse TFA individuals for transportation costs. Additionally, TFA is also implementing a car repair program, but this program is at an early stage.

TFA uses the block grant to provide this service. The CT Department of Labor administers TFA Employment Services and sets aside an additional amount yearly to cover transportation costs.

Transportation services are provided to TFA participants throughout the program duration for individuals with either part-time or full-time employment.

Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA)

DTA provides transportation stipends in the form of a monthly cash payment to TANF participants enrolled in employment and training. Likewise, DTA offers transitional transportation stipends for individuals leaving TANF with employment.

The legislature appropriates block grant funds each year through a line item in the budget for less than $779,058. Also, it allocates at least $1,000,000 for cash and transportation benefits for newly employed families with dependent children.

While the transitional support does not exceed 12 months, the transportation stipend lasts through a family’s enrollment in DTA.

Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS)

OKDHS utilizes contracts with local public transportation providers in rural areas and works closely with primary vendors, which are community action agencies (CAAs).

TANF block grant funds are used to pay a certain amount per vehicle mile. Contractors receive a set amount to cover the cost of transportation systems like a van or buses.

Contracts require transportation agencies to provide services between 7 AM to 7 PM and include drop-offs and pick-ups from child care centers.

Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) Economic Services Administration (ESA)

In 2015, DSHS ESA implemented the "Transportation Initiative" (TI), a pilot program to eliminate transportation barriers for Work First Clients (WA state’s TANF program) by relaxing eligibility requirements, improving application services, and providing additional transport support.

Upon completing the pilot study, DSHS ESA continued to provide numerous transportation services, including gas vouchers, car repairs, licensing and fees, public transportation, and mileage reimbursement.

In January 2022, DSHS implemented Post TANF Employment Transportation Support Services (PETSS) to help individuals maintain their employment.

The legislature appropriates block grant funds for those specific transportation support services. It sets a cap of $5,000 for Work First participants’ services (licenses and fees, mileage, fuel support, and public transportation).

Agency expanded covered transportation services for any Work First activity (work, safety, and other) and eliminated limitations of transportation support services for participants in treatment or education activities.

Maryland Temporary Assistance Program (TAP)

TAP leverages its network of partners like Vehicles for Change to provide participants with reliable used vehicles for two years or 24,000 miles.

Agency uses TANF funding to buy those vehicles.


Perry County Job and Family Services (JFS)

Transportation is a key barrier for rural TANF families, as the Perry County Transit System does not maintain door-to-door transportation. Perry County leverages a partnership with Hocking-Athens-Perry Community Action (HAPCAP) to provide personal transportation to TANF families.

To address the pitfall of transportation, Perry County JFS, alongside seven other counties, launched a “Regional Call Center” run by mobility managers—Transportation Specialists from each county whose responsibilities include raising awareness of this Regional Call Center, offering public transportation, ride-sharing, and door-to-door private transportation services.

Families who are seeking transportation call the Regional Center to schedule service.

Blending of TANF funding across seven counties to deliver resilient transportation services.


Transportation is a major barrier to obtaining and maintaining employment, especially for low-income families. Therefore, it is incumbent on TANF programs to think strategically about how to address this pervasive issue. Overall, resolving the transportation challenges will not happen overnight, but it is encouraging that TANF agencies are addressing this issue head-on.

Additional Resources
Massachusetts Transportation Services
Massachusetts Transitional Services
Washington State 2015 Transportation Pilot
Washington State Pilot Evaluation
Perry County Mobility Partnership
Regional Call Center Transportation Plan

About the Author

Romuald Lenou Tassigne, MPA (Full Bio to Come)

Research Associate
American Public Human Services Association (APHSA)

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