Downsized Commuter Perk: the Second Pass

Tuesday - 11/2/2010, 4:00am EDT

Editor's Note: It seems yesterday's date, November 1st, did not escape the notice of the FederalNewsRadio.com computers which celebrated the Day of the Dead by becoming the ex-servers. The computers that ceased to be. The servers formerly known as working. In celebration of their memory, we're re-posting yesterday's Federal Report for those who may have missed this sure-to-be-award-winning effort by Mr. Causey, along with some new stuff information. sk

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."

Time Off To Vote

Uncle Sam wants you to vote. So much so that the government can give you time off---in extreme cases one day or more---if necessary. The key point is necessary. So how do you know if you qualify to come in late, or leave early, to vote. First check when the polls open and close in your state, vote by mail and absentee ballot policies, then look at this explanation OPM put out in 2000:

    "...Typically, polling places throughout the United States are open for extended periods of time. Therefore, excused absence should rarely be needed.

    "...Generally, where the polls are not open at least 3 hours either before or after an employee's regular work hours, an agency may grant a limited amount of excused absence that will permit the employee to report for work 3 hours after the polls open or leave from work 3 hours before the polls close, whichever requires the lesser amount of time off. An employees "regular work hours" should be determined by reference to the time of day the employee normally arrives at and departs from work.

    "...If an employee's voting place is beyond normal commuting distance and vote by absentee ballot is not permitted, the employing agency may grant excused absence (not to exceed 1 day) to allow the employee to make the trip to the voting place to cast a ballot. If more than 1 day is needed, the employee may request annual leave or leave without pay for the additional period of absence."