About-face: 80% COAST funding lost, returned
July 30, 2020
COLFAX—There was no explanation of why Washington State Department of Transportation announced it planned to cut COAST’s funding last week and none when it pivoted on that decision Saturday to make no cuts at all.
COAST was informed July 23 that all its funding from the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Public Transportation Division was being cut, a loss of $266,000. According to COAST Executive Director Paige Collins, WSDOT did not give a specific reason from the cuts other than “lack of revenue.”
Craig VanTine, contracts and grants manager, was able to negotiate with WSDOT to get back a tiny bit of the funding, so the cut was only 80%. The addition meant COAST would be able to cover rides scheduled for July. However, after the month was over, COAST had planned to suspend all non-Medicaid transportation services in Whitman, Asotin and Garfield counties.
Then, Collins received word on Saturday—which coincidentally was her birthday—the transportation arm of Council on Aging would have the funding to continue providing its services.
“The decisions I was starting to make were giving me a lot of heartache,” she said.
COAST was pleased to announce the change first thing this morning.
“First let me [apologize] for any confusion that we might have created regarding the budget. Your budget has not been cut,” according to Firas Makhlouf, Capital Projects and Funding Manager for WSDOT. He went on to say that WSDOT had, “... no intention of affecting your services or agency operations.”
“We aren’t sure exactly what happened, but we were absolutely thrilled when we got the news on Saturday,” said Collins.
“We are more than grateful for some of our biggest supporters, funders and our Whitman County Commissioners who jumped right in to see how they could help fill the gap for our clients,” she said.
COAST provides transportation services in four Washington and five Idaho counties. WSDOT funding is essential in maintaining the Washington rides for the general public to access health services, food sources, work schedules, social needs, and other purposes.
Medicaid transports are only 25% of COAST’s total trips, leaving a large number of services the agency would not be able to provide had the funding been zeored. Rides that would have been suspended for the next year included non-medicaid medical transportation, physical therapy, groceries and shopping, Whitman County food pantries, social services, counseling, adult day health, child visitations, elder family visitation, hospital discharges, transports to homeless or DV shelters, housing and energy assistance, jail releases, transportation to and from train stations, bus stations, airports and occasional school and work commutes.
In 2019, COAST provided 9,184 trips for 1,200 people. In the second quarter of 2020, COAST provided 1,450 trips for 375 people which was half the amount during the same time the year prior. The cost for a paid driver to drive someone to Spokane and back for a specialty medical appointment, which is an almost daily occurrence, is $250.