Schenectady County

Wheels for Work gets less aid

Catholic Charities of Schenectady County’s Wheels for Work Program is getting less state money this
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Catholic Charities of Schenectady County’s Wheels for Work Program is getting less state money this year, but it hopes to stretch its grant by working with local auto repair businesses and other groups.

Catholic Charities received a one-year grant of $218,125 through the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance for the program in 2008-2009, a decrease of $60,000, said Program Director Tammy Brooks.

The money is used to repair donated vehicles, up to $1,000. The vehicles are then given to low-income families who need transportation for work.

Under program guidelines, participants must be age 21 and older, have minor children, earn below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which equals $3,400 a month for a family of four, and work a minimum of 30 hours per week, Brooks said. All program participants are women.

“A family living at 200 percent poverty level is struggling with the basics of life,” Brooks said. “They have little or no health insurance and day care issues and then they’re looking at getting to their job each day.”

Buses and taxis are not options, as buses often do not offer second-shift schedules and taxis are expensive, Brooks said. “These are families on food stamps, Medicaid, some kind of assistance, but they are working,” she said. “They are trying to do everything they can not to be in this position.”

Families must participate in Catholic Charities-run programs that teach money management and other life skills, Brooks said. “To get a vehicle, you have to be a client and all clients are required to take basic budgeting, financial literacy classes and go through a tax-return literacy class,” she said.

Catholic Charities helps pay for the donated car’s repairs during the first two weeks, or will try to obtain another car should the first car prove too expensive to repair. It also helps with car insurance, which the family must repay.

Catholic Charities hopes to use the grant to help 70 families with their transportation needs and provide at least 30 of them with vehicles. The program serves families in Schenectady, Albany and Rensselaer counties. There is a 120-day waiting list for a vehicle.

It is trying to stretch the grant this year by trying a new component, Brooks said. “We will work with garages and will assist clients with a private purchases of vehicles, especially around tax return time through our case-management component.”

Several garages, such as Princetown Autobody, work closely with Catholic Charities. Business owner Gary Fatato, 44, for one, has worked with the agency for more than three years; he charges it less than half his hourly rate for vehicle repairs, which starts at $75 per hour.

“I like to help people,” Fatato said. “I can tell you that in the past three weeks, four of my customers have donated to the program. I give them the option of donating the car rather than spending more money on it than necessary. I got a history with the car and I talk to Tammy about it.”

A person can claim a charitable tax donation if Catholic Charities gives the car to a family, Brooks said. If Catholic Charities deems the vehicle too expensive to repair, it will sell it or scrap it and then the person can only claim a partial deduction.

Catholic Charities will accept vehicles built no earlier than 1997, with less than 150,000 miles and able to be made road-worthy for $1,000 or less, Brooks said. For more information, call 346-3861.

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