Commuter $$$ Perk About To Be Downsized

Monday - 11/1/2010, 1:05pm EDT

The transit subsidy enjoyed by tens of thousands of federal workers, mostly in the Washington area, is scheduled to drop $120 per month beginning in January.

Right now, eligible feds can get up to $230 per month from their agency to help them get to and from work. Washington's subway system which extends into the Virginia and Maryland suburbs is called Metro. There is also light rail, above ground service to and from the city from Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

Some feds in other places, often thanks to union-negotiated deals, get the transit subsidy, but for the most part it is a Washington area perk.

An estimated 40 percent of Metro's rush hour riders are federal workers. Metro fares are based on distance so some feds who have relatively short commutes actually ride for free each day. Others with longer Metro commutes still pay less than riders who don't get a transit subsidy.

Up until January, 2009, the maximum federal transit subsidy was $120 for federal commuters and members of qualified vanpools. But in February of that year passage of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act temporarily increased the subsidy to $230. Under the sunset rules of the ARRA law, the maximum transit subsidy goes back to $120 per month in January of next year.

Most of the Washington area transit providers have raised fares, or plan to. They've depended, indirectly, on the federal subsidies to minimize protests from riders.

The vast majority of people who get some kind of transit subsidy from their employer work for the federal government. But earlier this year The Examiner, a Washington-based newspaper, said county employees in Montgomery County, Maryland were eligible for $35 per month in transit subsidies plus they could ride from on the county's Ride On bus system. In adjoining Prince George's County, the Examiner said, county employees ride free on its TheBus system. And it said that in Fairfax County, Va., about 200 county employees got up to $120 month in transit subsidies. City workers employed by the District of Columbia don't receive any subsidy, the paper reported.

A congressional aide, familiar with the transit subsidy, said "nobody should count on the post-election Congress coming to the rescue of a $230 per month" subsidy that "almost exclusively benefits federal government workers." He said it may be a "major issue with some people inside the Beltway" but that in other parts of the country taxpayers would be "up in arms if they learned how this works."

Your 2011 Health Plan

How come most FEHBP premiums are going up? Should you stick with your current plan or switch? When protecting yourself (and family) do you look at premiums, benefits or catastrophic limits? How can you save $1,000 in premiums and out of pocket costs next year?

Today at 10 a.m. on WFED's For Your Benefit radio show, hosts Bob Leins and Tammy Flanagan will talk with FEHBP insurance expert Walton Francis about the upcoming health insurance open season. Francis writes and edits Checkbook's Guide to Federal Health Plans. Many federal agencies subscribe to the on-line version of the guide for their workers. For a sneak preview of the "best buys" for 2011, listen today.

To reach me: mcausey@federalnewsradio.com


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