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CFO launches transportation fund for workers facing barriers

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You think you’ve found what you’ve been looking for: an experienced floor manager who’s available to work second shift. But when you invite her to an in-person interview, she declines.

Turns out the battery in her car is dead, and she’s been stranded at her rural home for days because she doesn’t have money to buy a new one. She wants the job, she has the skills, but she doesn’t have a way to get there.

Community Foundation of the Ozarks Inc. has a solution, announced today during an event at Penmac Staffing Services Inc.

CFO has established the Let’s Get to Work Fund to support workers and job seekers who face transportation barriers that affect their ability to get hired or to maintain their current jobs.

The fund opens with a $375,000 commitment from the CFO, donors David and Stacey O’Reilly, and the O’Reilly Charity Golf Classic Fund, plus another $25,000 in anticipated commitments.

According to CFO officials, the funds can be used for transportation needs like car repairs, new tires, gas cards, licensing fees or taxes, bus passes, ride-sharing services or taxis, the purchase or repair of bikes or e-bikes, or vehicle purchase down payments.

There are two ways the fund can provide support for both employed and unemployed people with transportation needs that impede their ability to get or keep jobs: Case managers working for nonprofit agencies can apply through CFO, or businesses can access funds through a partnership with United Way of the Ozarks and the Springfield Business Development Corp., a nonprofit subsidiary of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

CFO President Brian Fogle said many workers cite the three biggest barriers to employment as workplace flexibility, which only employers can address; child care; and transportation issues.

“One thing we can focus on to make a difference is the transportation barrier,” he said.

He noted the Let’s Get to Work Fund looks at all options for transportation, from fixing a car to paying for a trip via Uber or Lyft to buying a bicycle or scooter.

This is a prime opportunity to seize the moment, Fogle said.

“The ultimate goal is to get people back into this tremendous opportunity because of the workforce and demand for labor right now,” he said. “Wages are rising. I think it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get people back to work at good wages where they can improve their economic situation. We need to take advantage of this opportunity.”

Unemployment is at a near-historic low of 2.4% in the five-county metro of Greene, Christian, Webster, Polk and Dallas counties with an estimated 4,000-person net reduction in the local workforce since July. The Indeed online job search website currently lists about 11,500 current job openings in Greene County. 

Fogle noted that as a philanthropic agency, CFO is able to do a lot of things that government organizations cannot to help workers and employers find each other.

“Lots of times our money is a lot more flexible and easier to access,” he said. “We want this to be easy, simple, accessible and responsive. I think we’ve accomplished that.”

Sally Payne, Springfield’s director of Workforce Development, said clients of the Missouri Job Center are already lined up to benefit from the fund.

“This is a game-changer for some of our clients,” she said. “As someone who works with clients on a daily basis, I can tell you that transportation is a barrier to many. This could change people’s lives.”

Payne commended the community for bringing the fund to fruition.

“Transportation is one of those issues and barriers to employment – and, frankly, quality of life – that no one entity will be able to resolve,” she said. “It’s impressive for a whole community to come together and really look at this issue and try to move the needle in a positive way.”

Payne said many people don’t understand the ramifications of generational poverty. She spoke to Springfield Business Journal from a youth conference, where a teen talked about seeing her mother put 50 cents’ worth of gas in her car while all around, others were filling their tanks.

“It sounds very simple – well, what’s the problem; can’t you put $5 in? For some people, they can’t,” she said.

“For some people, it’s making a choice between food and gas. That’s what a lot of people deal with, and sometimes I don’t think we realize how deep that goes.”

Residential eligibility for this funding will cover the 14-county area of southwest Missouri where the service areas of the CFO and United Way of the Ozarks overlap: Barry, Christian, Dallas, Douglas, Greene, Hickory, Laclede, Lawrence, Polk, Stone, Taney, Texas, Webster and Wright counties.


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