Senators call for mass-transit benefit extension

Monday - 12/12/2011, 2:36pm EST

By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio
@jmooreWFED

A group of 22 senators has called on the Senate Finance Committee to take up extending a mass-transit commuter tax benefit, which expires at the end of the year.

The mass-transit benefit is set to be cut nearly in half — from $230 a month to $120 — starting next year, barring action by Congress.

Maryland Democratic Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, who both signed the letter, said the cut could disproportionately affect federal workers.

"Congress should not keep chipping away at essential benefits that help federal employees do the work of the American people," Cardin said in a release. "Eliminating the mass-transit credit would take a cut out of the paychecks of hardworking middle-class families trying to get by in an already tough economy."

Mikulski said extending the benefit would have "an immediate impact, easing the burden on middle-class families and Maryland's federal workforce."

More than 2.5 million people use the mass-transit benefit, according to a release from Cardin and Mikulski's offices.

The commuter benefit was last boosted in December 2010, when Congress upped it to its current level — the same amount afforded parking benefits.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced earlier this year the Commuter Benefits Equity Act, which would make the expansion of the transit benefit permanent.

A similar measure was introduced in the House, but neither chamber's bill has left committee.

National Journal's transportation blog notes that there is no agreement on how much an extension of the transit benefit would costs, which could complicate a last-minute deal. Meanwhile, higher-profile congressional wrangling over the payroll tax cut extension and keeping the government funded past a Dec. 16 deadline have overshadowed efforts to extend the transit benefit.

The National Employees Treasury Union, in a letter to lawmakers last week, said failing to pass an extension would cause "severe financial burden" on federal employees.

Click here for the full letter to the Senate Finance Committee.

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