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Frustrated Commuters Upset They Can't Get Unused Transit Benefits Back

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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 reports.

Video Transcript

- [? --set ?] aside money for their commutes, but now they can't get it back. It's a federal benefit program helping New Yorkers.

- But with their jobs now remote, some commuters are asking the IRS for a break. CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reports from Long Island.

EILEEN DAMORE: Right now, currently, I am out $662.50.

JENNIFER MCLOGAN: Eileen Damore of Island Park, like thousands of others, enrolled in a benefit allowing commuters to deduct more than $250 a month from their paychecks for transit expenses while lowering their taxable income, backed by environmentalists and the LIRR Commuter Council.

GERARD BRINGMAN: It allows commuters to use pre-tax dollars to pay for their commutations.

JENNIFER MCLOGAN: The transit benefit is part of a federal energy law to promote mass transit as an alternative to driving. But now, due to the pandemic, fewer than 30% are commuting to work on the LIRR. And the benefits program may end up costing these people money instead.

EILEEN DAMORE: I personally don't know if and when I'm ever returning to the city. I've been working remotely. And this money may never be given back to me.

JENNIFER MCLOGAN: Under current federal rules, unused funds cannot be returned to commuters, even if they lose their jobs, are laid off, or circumstances change.

GERARD BRINGMAN: It's not unusual for people to be saying that they've got $600 or $700 in these accounts. I know one person that has over $1,000.

JENNIFER MCLOGAN: A bipartisan congressional group is now urging the government consider options.

THOMAS SUOZZI: Now, their own money is trapped in these accounts, and they can't get their own money back. We need the IRS and the Treasury Department to get together and help give people the relief they need.

GERARD BRINGMAN: We're just looking for a one time exemption.

EILEEN DAMORE: That $662 is my money. And I want it back.

JENNIFER MCLOGAN: Using their funds to pay down their bills while wondering if their commutes will ever be the same-- on Long Island, Jennifer McLogan CBS2 News.