Many Long Island Railroad commuters save money with a monthly pre-tax deduction, the money from which sits in transit accounts owned by commuters and can only be used to pay for transit costs. Some who once took the train to work regularly have found themselves out of work or working remotely during the pandemic, however, leading to those funds piling up in individual accounts.
Sen. Charles Schumer stopped by the Merrick train station on Monday to call on the Internal Revenue Service, which controls access to the funds, to release the money to commuters who benefit from the program. Some riders’ accounts have accrued hundreds of dollars — and in one case, shared by State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, amounted to more than $1,800.
“I wrote the federal benefit program designed to help New Yorkers save some money with a pre-tax transit deduction each month. It’s a great idea and it works for countless commuters, but amid Covid uncertainty many people’s cash has piled up in an account the IRS doesn’t directly oversee, but also one the commuter cannot access for other users,” Schumer said. “So, commuters are rightfully miffed that they can’t get back their unused transit benefit dollars.”
Schumer called on the IRS to “figure out a solution” and added that he would introduce legislation on the issue if a solution were not found.
“This has been a very hard year for many Long Islanders,” Kaminsky said. “Five hundred, 800, over $1,000 means a lot to a Long Island family, and to know that their money is within reach but unreachable has been simply unacceptable.”
Kaminsky shared an email his office received from an Oceanside family that owns two accounts that have a combined $1,800 in them, “which is money that we could use during this time,” the letter read.
In a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, Schumer wrote, “The substantial workplace disruptions and uncertainty caused by the pandemic have limited the ability of individuals to plan their benefit elections weeks in advance.”
“Tens of thousands of people have millions of dollars tied up in pre-tax benefits,” said Lisa Daglian, the executive director of the Long Island Commuter Council. “This would be the perfect time to find a way for riders — whose commutes may still be on pause — to access those funds for critical expenses like rent and food.”