By David Pendered
After years of squeezing employees to help balance its budget, MARTA hopes to boost morale by offering a benefits program with interest-free payments, via a payroll deduction plan, on purchases ranging from legal services to computers.
The program is being ramped up as MARTA’s leadership has implemented of a number of cost-saving measures, some of them in the face of strong opposition from some employees.
Some jobs have been outsourced, personnel costs were reduced as rail and bus service was reduced, and wages were frozen. These changes came in the footsteps of a 2012 management audit that showed MARTA would exhaust its reserve funds by 2018 unless steps were taken to reduce expenses.
With the fiscal outlook stabilized, MARTA is turning to one of the nation’s fastest-growing types of voluntary benefits programs in order to raise morale.
The advantage of these programs for employers is the ability to offer current and potential employees a benefit that doesn’t cost the company money or administrative hassle, according to one contractor, McGrath Affinity. For employees, the benefit is access to a source of credit, typically free for 12 months, that doesn’t require a background check or a ding on a credit score for submitting an application for credit.
Credit limits typically are based on salary and tenure with the company, typically a minimum of six to 12 months, according to McGrath Affinity’s website.
MARTA issued a request for proposals July 6 stating MARTA’s intent to:
- “Provide its employees with a disciplined way to purchase products and services, interest-free, through a simple payroll deduction plan. The program will include products and services in the following fields: employee purchasing services (including goods, services, vacations, educational courses, and trainings), legal services, and insurance coverages (including long term care and final expenses, and pet & animal care).
MARTA has built a number of self-protection clauses into its RFP.
For instance, MARTA specifies that it is not responsible for any unresolved payments between the contractor and employee.
MARTA won’t mediate any disputes, because its only sole responsibility will be, “management and administration of the payroll deduction process and for reviewing and approving communication materials.”
If a situation compels MARTA to intervene, the contractor will pay MARTA an administrative fee to resolve disputes. None of the fee will be passed on to a MARTA employee.
MARTA plans to give the program a three-year try-out. Depending how things work out, MARTA can terminate the contract early or extend it for two, one-year extensions.
MARTA has identified four types of goods and services that it wants offer eligible employees. MARTA is willing to hire one or more contractors for the four categories of benefits to be offered.
The deadline for responses to the RFP was extended to Aug. 22, from the original deadline of Aug. 6. MARTA hosted a pre-proposal conference July 16.
Here’s a full description of each benefits category, as outlined in a MARTA document:
- “Employee Purchasing Program. The Contractor, under this component, will provide MARTA employees with the ability to purchase products and services including, but not limited to electronic equipment, computers, vacation planning and traveling services, and household products. The Contractor must be able to provide or have access to a host of interest-free products and/or services that MARTA employees will be able to purchase through payroll deduction.
- “Prepaid Legal Services. The Contractor, under this component, will provide MARTA employees with the ability to purchase legal services including, but not limited to wills, trusts, estate administration and other pre-paid legal services by attorneys licensed to practice in the State of
- “Insurance Services (Long Term Care & Final Expenses). The Contractor, under this component, will provide MARTA employees with the ability to purchase various types of insurance services/coverages including, but not limited, to final expense medical services, funeral costs.
- “Insurance Services (Pet and Animal Care). The Contractor, under this component, will provide MARTA employees with comprehensive, every day and/or emergency insurance coverages for their pets and animals.