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Solutions being sought for KAT's volunteer driver program

WILLMAR -- Solutions are being sought to keep a volunteer driver program, which transports people to medical appointments, operating in the aftermath of a new state interpretation of federal rules.

If a resolution isn't reached by the Department of Human Services and Minnesota Department of Transportation, the burden will fall on counties.

Kandiyohi County is "well aware" of the problem," Commissioner Richard Falk said Friday during a meeting of the Kandiyohi Area Transit's joint powers board. "We have no solution yet."

KAT has about a dozen drivers who volunteer their time and vehicles to take individuals, who have no other transportations options, to the doctor.

Oftentimes these clients receive Medical Assistance, are unable to drive themselves, are unable to use public transportation and have no family or friends to drive them to appointments as close as Willmar or as far away as Rochester or the Twin Cities.

In the past, the drivers were given a mileage reimbursement by the state for driving to the client's house or for returning home after bringing a client to the hospital for an overnight stay.

Earlier this year, the DHS said it would no longer provide reimbursements for "no-load" miles when the client wasn't in the vehicle.

In some cases, that could mean not being reimbursed for 100 or more miles a day.

Tiffany Collins, KAT transit director, said Friday she's afraid some of her drivers won't be able to afford to keep volunteering for the program if they aren't compensated for all the miles they drive. About 27 percent of the program's miles for 2009 fit into the no-load category. At 50 cents a mile, that equates to about $19,000.

Since the DHS bulletin with the new interpretation came out in mid-January, KAT has been working to reduce no-load miles by conducting additional review to find alternate transportation for some clients, said Collins.

So far, they've been able to avoid logging no-load miles and none of KAT's volunteers have quit.

Collins said, however, drivers are concerned about the changes and she's concerned some of the drivers will no longer volunteer for the program.

In other action, the board was informed KAT might be getting a new bus this year instead of in 2011 or 2012.

A bus that was demolished in a 2007 accident upset KAT's bus replacement schedule. That has forced KAT to keep some buses past their prime, which has increased maintenance costs. There is the possibility that federal stimulus funding will provide 100 percent of the cost.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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