Lawmakers call for extension of mass transit commuter benefits

With mass transit commuter perks set to expire at the end of 2011, lawmakers have pushed congressional leadership to make the issue a priority.

Federal employees' current mass transit benefit of $230 a month -- equal to the benefit for parking -- will drop to $125 a month beginning in 2012.

The law that sets the amount of pretax earnings that workers can set aside for travel to and from work also determines the commuter subsidy for federal employees.

Fifty representatives signed a letter to House leadership last Friday that focused on the financial savings that extending the larger benefit would offer workers -- in the form of a tax break for private sector employees who do not receive money for commuting from their employer.

A bipartisan group of more than 20 senators -- led by Maryland's two Democrats, Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski -- sent their own letter urging Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus D-Mont., and ranking member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to pass the extension.

"Commuter benefits are one of the core benefits offered by employers, after health, retirement and disability benefits," the senators wrote. "This important benefit eases the burden of commuting costs on families, relieves congestion, reduces the stress on our highway system and decreases our reliance on foreign oil," the senators wrote.

The National Treasury Employees Union also has pressed for extending the benefit.

"I welcome the support of these members of the House in providing an appropriate benefit that helps struggling federal employees and has a positive impact on traffic congestion and the environment," NTEU President Colleen Kelley said.

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