Murphy

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, WageWorks and the MTA are not providing refunds for transit passes of New York City workers who have been ordered to stay home. WageWorks’ Transitchek program enables commuters to use pre-tax dollars of up to $270 a month to pay for subway, bus, train, ferry, car or eligible vanpools, while also reducing payroll taxes paid by their employers.

On March 18, Governor Cuomo ordered the closing of all non-essential businesses, from March 22 until April 15.

The next day, WageWorks sent emails to some of its customers’ benefits administrators, entitled “Update on COVID-19 and your commuter benefit – no action needed.” In three separate bullets it said,

  • The fulfillment for your upcoming April commuter order will go forward as usual.
  • Regular established pass return and refund policies remain in effect.
  • If and when transit and parking providers make changes to their policies in response to COVID-19, we will work with them to extend those to you.

The WageWorks email contained links to summaries of return and refund policies at the MTA and also said, “if you need to make changes to pending elections, please log in to your account by your order deadline.”

However, the MTA’s website says it does not provide refunds for MetroCards “while the transit system continues to operate” and is unable to resolve issues with “pre-tax MetroCards you received through programs like WageWorks.”

“Many workers were essentially forced to go ahead with purchases of MetroCards that they would have canceled if they had a choice,” said Gabrielle Prisco, a WageWorks participant and employee of a New York City-based non-profit. She was particularly riled by WageWorks’ internal policy requiring participants to make changes to their benefits by the 10th of each month. “If the deadline had been extended, rather than paying for a MetroCard they won’t use, some workers would have used that money for actual emergency needs—such as extra food or medicine, or compensating for a family member’s lost income.”

WageWorks sent Debbie Spero’s company a similar email, on the evening Cuomo ordered the “pause.” That version included a bullet that said, “Please note there are no credit or refund options for the Premium TransitChek MetroCard product.” And it said employees had until March 31 to log onto their accounts to make changes to their pending May benefits.

“I called Transitchek on April 9th to see if I could cancel my May (PMC benefit) and they said I could not suspend May on April 9,” said Spero, a new business development manager for a metro area IT staffing firm. That’s when she found out WageWorks required employees at her firm to make changes by the eighth of each month. After several days of calls, Spero says, a WageWorks supervisor told her, “the only thing I could do now was to suspend my June Metrocard and told me I had until the end of April to do so.”

On April 16, Cuomo extended the closure of non-essential businesses to May 15.

It is unclear how many TransitChek participants there are. Sponsors of a 2016 New York City law requiring non-governmental businesses with more than 20 full-time workers to offer the benefit, estimated it would increase TransitChek membership to 1.45 million riders from 1 million.

WageWorks administers consumer-directed benefits and charges companies a fee for every participant in a company’s pre-tax commuter benefits plan, as well as other monthly expenses.  WageWorks is a subsidiary of publicly traded HealthEquity.

WageWorks declined to say how many workers receive its commuter benefits in New York or the how many of those may be affected by the governor’s shutdown.

”We have and continue to support transit agency policies like the MTA, NJ Transit and others, related to returning passes. We’re constantly exploring options to ease the burden on people who are unable to use their passes and will continue to support the decisions transit agencies make regarding the return of their passes,” said Maureen Locus, WageWorks’ senior manager of corporate communications, in a statement.

“We communicated to all our members regarding future elections and encourage them to determine if they may have a transit need. Members may continue to adjust their account as appropriate, given their commute needs,” said Locus.

Demands for refunds and cancellation of payroll deductions linked to Covid-19 come as the MTA faces huge deficits, and a 60 percent decline in subway ridership and up to 90 percent on commuter railways.

“MTA is in dire straits with money and has asked for another $3.9B from federal government,” said MTA spokesperson Meredith Daniels, in a statement.

“The MTA continues to run essential service for essential employees and those are the people who are, and should be, commuting to their jobs. Companies who have been providing commuter benefits through payroll deductions, and have changed to a telecommuting policy, have a responsibility to notify employees about how to manage their accounts to accommodate their commuting status,” she added.

Daniels says the MTA sells 3 million MetroCards annually to WageWorks for use on MTA subways and buses.  It sells 75 million MetroCards overall. 

In a statement provided to City Limits on Wednesday afternoon, the MTA said: “It is WageWorks’ responsibility to notify their customers who have changed to a telecommuting policy that they need to adjust their payroll deductions so their employees have enough notice to appropriately manage their accounts during this time. No one anticipated how this pandemic would affect working people and WageWorks, as the benefit provider, has an obligation to accommodate their customers as the MTA focuses on the important job of providing essential service for essential employees.”  

“Now is not the time to point fingers and deflect responsibility on who must refund riders,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee in a statement. “New Yorkers are going through an incredibly challenging time and we must work together to get them the help they need,” “Our priority is to support and help all workers currently impacted by COVID,” Rodriguez added.

“The bottom line is that this decision risks public safety and is an economic injustice,” says Prisco.

Some transit agencies that partner with WageWorks are taking steps to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their commuting workers, including those in San Francisco and Philadelphia.

8 thoughts on “WageWorks, MTA Dispute Over Refunds for Unused Pre-Paid Commuter Benefits

  1. The MTA actually made this Policy, not WageWorks. WageWorks will not provide credit to passes if the Agency does not Credit them back. MTA passes are good for 18 months after the print date. Meaning if the pass is unused, the person can swipe it when they DO go back to work and it’ll work as normal. The pass is not used for a specific month like New Jersey Transit passes are. If you buy a new car, can you return it anytime you want for a refund? Blame the Agency, not WageWorks.

  2. My card was funded for April and May. I have not used the MTA for all of April, and don’t plan on using it for all of May. June gets funded next week. So, if I cancel today, so that my card stops being funded, will I be able to use the April and May funds later this year by swiping my card to activate? Like, if in June I start going to my office again using the MTA, will I have those two 30-day periods worth of funds on my metro card that I can activate and use before I contact wageworks to uncancel and start my account funding again? That would be great to know.

  3. I have two transit check cards that I used for commuting on the LIRR. I will no longer be commuting as I am considered high risk and will be moving out of state. I am unable to get in touch with a customer service representative to speak to @ 1.800.945.CHEK. $530 that I could have used for necessities during this pandemic. Refunds should be given to customers who have medical conditions where they cannot use the services with a doctor’s note.

  4. I think the MTA should refund us. Especially since they are asking taxpayers for a bailout!!!
    I did not meet the March 31st deadline because my company sent notice a day beforehand and my loved one was hit with COVID so that was the last thing on my mind. I would have expected my company to suspend all TransitChek deductions for its employees since everyone was told to work from home. I can’t believe they won’t even refund a hardship case. So now I’m out $500 that I really could use for survival.

  5. The same thing is happening here to people working in Chicago. The date to change my transit order was the 8th of the month. I was on vacation during that week and returned to work on 3/16/20. On that day, I received an email from the railroad that I use telling me that because of Covid and realizing that people won’t be commuting as much, do not order the April ticket and you can use your March ticket for March and April. Well, little did I know that on 3/17/20, I was going to be furloughed. Well, needless to say, with the 16th and 17th of the month the only days I worked, after WageWorks took my money (I called them immediately on 3/16/20 about the email to not buy a ticket but they refused to do anything about it), I was left with a paycheck on 3/31/20 for $1.99. Yes, you heard me right — $1.99. Furlough lasted a month, I worked from home for two months, and now permanently laid off. Now my employer, who originally said they would help get my money back, says that they can’t give the money back because some law firm called The Wagner Group, or something like that, wrote something up over a year ago April, saying commuter benefits are not refundable. I say to that then, somebody stole my money — and who is it? WageWorks or my former employer? Forfeiture is not an option. That is my money that I earned and should be refunded. And everyone else should get their refunds also. Luckily for me I have 2 attorneys in my family — who will be hearing about this tomorrow.

    • Wageworks is stealing people’s hard earned money. In this pandemic situation we obviously cannot use our commuter cards, so they should have allowed flexibility on changes in the monthly deduction plan. Basically any change in plan is taking 2 months to be effective. I have 500 dollar in commuter card and I cannot use it now. And I might have to go back to my home country and they mentioned they will not refund the money. Wageworks customercare is a joke.

  6. They got me for $127. Charged me for a card that was illegal to use in NYC. I notified them in March that I didn’t need the card for April. They still charged me and won’t refund the money, or give me a new card to use now that the trains are open again.

  7. Ridiculous that they will not refund the money. The governer’s stay at home orders came too late to cancel. To make it better when I called wags works customer service I was told you can’t have more than 3 months of funds in the account anyway(already had 3 months at this point) . Guess what? They took a fourth!! Was finally able To stop deductions in time. This is highway robbery. This was an extraordinary situation – any prior agreements should not apply.

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