MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — They set aside money for their commutes, but can’t get it back.
A federal benefits program that is designed to help New Yorkers deducts money automatically from workers’ pay. However, with their jobs now remote, some commuters are asking the IRS for a break, CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported Tuesday.
“Right now, currently, I am out $662.50,” said Eileen Damore of Island Park.
Damore, like thousands of others, is enrolled in a benefit allowing commuters to deduct more than $250 per month from their paychecks for transit expenses, while lowering their taxable income. The benefit is backed by environmentalists and the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council.
“It allows commuters to use pre-tax dollars to pay for their commutations,” LIRR Commuter Council chairman Gerard Bringmann said.
The transit benefit is part of a federal energy law to promote mass transit as an alternative to driving. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic fewer than 30% are commuting to work on the LIRR and the benefits program may instead end up costing these people money.
“I, personally, don’t know if and when I’m ever returning to the city,” Damore said. “I’ve been working remotely, and this money many never be given back to me.”
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Under current federal rules, unused funds cannot be returned to commuters, even if they lose jobs, are laid off, or circumstances change.
“It’s not unusual for people to say they have $600-$700 in these accounts. I know one person with over $1,000,” Bringmann said.
A bipartisan Congressional group is now urging the government to consider other options.
“Now, their own money is trapped in these accounts, and they can’t get their own money back,” Rep. Tom Suozzi said. “We need the IRS, the Treasury Department to get together and help give people the relief they need.”
“We are just looking for a one-time exemption,” Bringmann said.
“That $662 is my money and I want it back,” Damore added.
They are using their funds to pay down their bills, while wondering if their commutes will ever be the same.