The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

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The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Congress Lets Mass Transit Tax Benefit Expire

December 28, 2011 - Posted by Lexer Quamie

Due to inaction by Congress before leaving for the holidays, the amount of tax-exempt money that mass transit commuters can apply toward transportation costs will be cut in half to approximately $125 per month. As a result, the tax-exemption for parking costs, at $240, will now be nearly double the mass transit commuter benefit.

The federal pre-tax mass transit benefit, which is provided by employers, allows people to save money on their daily commute, saves businesses critical dollars that can be reinvested to create new jobs, helps reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality, and saves energy.

Civil and human rights advocates see the reduction in this benefit as a real loss for those individuals who rely most heavily on public transportation: people with disabilities, students, seniors, and low-income people.

Transportation is the second largest household expense for most working families. Low-income individuals spend about 42 percent of their total annual incomes on transportation, compared to 22 percent of middle-income individuals. And racial minorities are four times more likely than Whites to rely on public transportation for their work commute.

 Programs and benefits that lower transportation costs make a difference for working families struggling to make ends meet. More than 2.7 million working families, at all income levels, now take advantage of the transit portion of the commuter benefit.

The mass transit commuter benefit helps encourage public transit ridership, while enabling people to commute to work in a manner that is affordable. The steep reduction in the transit provision is due to Congress’s failure to renew the limit at previous levels in the Commuter Benefits Equity Act. Congress may approve a higher limit for transit benefits when it returns in January 2012.

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