Tax Reform Is Gonna Eat My Lunch!

Republicans are using employee achievement awards and parking benefits to pay for a corporate tax cut.

WASHINGTON ― My employer gives everyone in my office a free lunch every day, and Republicans in Congress want to put a stop to it.

The tax code currently allows businesses to deduct the cost of meals if they provide them at the workplace to the majority of employees. It’s one of several tiny tax breaks Republicans would eliminate in an apparently desperate effort to offset the many trillions of dollars the corporate and individual tax cuts at the heart of their plan will cost.

Businesses have long received a tax break on worker meals offered for the convenience of the employer, but some firms may have been exploiting the write-off in recent years, said Gregg Polsky, a tax professor with the University of Georgia School of Law.

“The limits have been pushed by the Googles and the Facebooks of the world that have these huge cafeterias serving gourmet breakfast, lunch and dinner to every single employee, every single work day, tax free,” Polsky said.

Wall Street banks and tech companies — including HuffPost’s parent company, Oath — often pay for lunch for employees by putting money in employee accounts with lunch-delivery services such as Seamless.

Grubhub, which owns Seamless, declined to comment.

Only the Senate version of the tax reform plan, which could see a vote in the upper chamber next week, does away with the deduction for meals. Combined with a provision targeting expenses related to employee entertainment, this part of the Senate bill saves $23 billion over 10 years.

Both the House and Senate bills eliminate the tax breaks for commuting and parking, saving more than $10 billion.

Write-offs targeted by just the House bill include tax breaks for employee achievement awards, day care assistance programs and employee moving expenses. Those three items together save about $12 billion.

Will Tysse, a tax expert with the McGuireWoods law firm, said he didn’t think Republicans had much of an ideological reason for targeting employer tax deductions.

“They need money, these are ways to generate revenue, and it has the collateral benefit of helping to simplify the tax code as well,” Tysse said.

Republicans may not hate workplace fringe benefits, but if their tax bill spoils free lunch for highly paid workers at tech companies in liberal metropolitan areas, well, they probably wouldn’t mind that.

AOL, HuffPost’s former parent company, merged with Yahoo to form Oath earlier this year. The new firm provides lunch for HuffPost reporters and editors — which would be an enormous expense if it weren’t a tax write-off. Oath’s press team didn’t immediately respond to a question about the fate of lunch.

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