The federal government does not provide grants directly to low-income families or individuals for transportation expenses. Instead, the money flows to universities, non-profits, and state agencies to achieve a public good.
However, using different strategies, you can find financial assistance for transportation to medical appointments, worksites, and grocery shopping.
For instance, you can trace grant money from federal departments to local state, county, or municipal agencies that provide benefits to specific groups.
Or, you can take advantage of government programs that include financial assistance for transportation costs buried in the fine print.
Often you need to know where to look and what questions to ask. Find a roadmap to seven possible resources below.
Transportation Grants for Work Commuting
Individuals and low-income families can trace transportation grants to local agencies that provide financial assistance when commuting to work. The secret is knowing where to apply or how to recognize alternative names.
Free government money for bills and personal use might prove more fruitful when you widen the net beyond rides to work, medical appointments, or the grocery store. Leave no stone unturned when seeking relief from sky-high gas prices!
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program receives three federal grants. It disperses some of the funding to low-income households to help them with transportation costs associated with employment.
- The TANF block grant program administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
- The Welfare-to-Work (WtW) competitive grant program administered by the Department of Labor (DOT)
- The Job Access and Reverse Commute grant program (Job Access) administered by DOT, Federal Transit
Apply for TANF transportation financial assistance through your local state agency.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers a disguised transportation grant known as the Section 132 commuter benefit. Transit and parking accounts enable individuals to use pre-tax dollars to pay specific expenses.
Pre-tax payroll deductions reduce your income subject to three possible taxes: federal income, FICA, and state income when applicable.
- Transit Account: use pre-tax dollars to pay for mass transit commuting expenses: subway, train, bus, and vanpools
- Parking Account: use pre-tax dollars to pay for eligible parking expenses: near your place of employment or mass transit access points
Apply for this financial assistance by electing Elect to fund a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA) during your annual open enrollment at work.
Transportation Assistance for Medical Appointments
Federal and state governments provide two transportation grants with alternate names. The first offers financial assistance to low-income families, while the second helps individuals who earn more.
Medicaid provides transportation grants to low-income families when needed to receive approved healthcare. The financial assistance provides rides to doctor offices and hospitals when necessary, according to state rules.
For instance, Medicaid might pay for rides in a taxi, car, van, subway, or train to and from approved medical appointments.
- Air or ground ambulance to the closest emergency room after a severe medical event such as a heart attack or car accident
- Non-emergency medical transportation for approved care at a doctor’s office or medical imaging center
The IRS offers disguised grants to higher-income individuals needing transportation to doctor and dental appointments. Their Topic 502 indicates that travel expenses are tax-deductible medical expenses.
For instance, you can deduct payments of the actual fare for a taxi, bus, train, ambulance, or personal auto, plus tolls and parking when needed for essential medical care.
Higher-income individuals that pay income taxes have two ways to utilize IRS-sponsored financial assistance. Still, most people find that using a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) works better than deducting expenses at the end of the year.
Take the deductions using Schedule A but only after satisfying two thresholds
- Itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction
- Unreimbursed medical expenses top 10% of Adjusted Gross Income
An FSA offers first-dollar tax savings (no thresholds) while also offering a hidden benefit overlooked easily.
Transportation Assistance for Shopping
Many low-income families and individuals can find financial assistance with transportation grants to go shopping for groceries and other essentials by applying for help from local grant recipients.
Indirect transportation grants are available to disabled individuals who cannot drive a car or take public transportation because of specific limitations.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires public transit agencies to provide “complementary paratransit” service to people with disabilities who cannot use the fixed-route bus or rail service.
The complementary paratransit occurs within ¾ of a mile of an established bus route or rail station during the same service hours and days at no more than twice the regular fixed-route fare.
In other words, the service is not free but may be cheaper than taking a taxi or an Uber ride because the government subsidizes mass transit fares.
Find a local provider required to provide this service by searching for “ADA paratransit” combined with your state name.
Your state’s Department of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) may provide financial assistance with transportation. Many states allocate budget dollars to help adults with special needs to foster independent living.
For example, the state of New Jersey pays for Uber and Lyft rides for adults with special needs. They even include a payment option built into the app that connects to a third-party fiscal intermediary that manages the transactions.
Apply for this benefit by revising the Individualized Service Plan (ISP) to include transportation services. In New Jersey, you would complete Section 5 found on page 3 of the ISP.
Elderly individuals can often find financial assistance with many of their transportation needs through the senior center in their community. Many programs provide curb-to-curb rides from residents’ homes to the senior center.
From the senior center, you can take advantage of scheduled busses that run regular routes to and from popular shopping areas such as the local grocery store, pharmacy, or YMCA.