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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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Shutdown Pay and Leave, Telework Savings, Rx Tracking and More

While Republicans and Democrats duke it out over Homeland Security funding, lawmakers in both chambers have introduced bills that would guarantee back pay to federal workers affected by any lapse in appropriations for the department.

The Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act of 2015, introduced in the Senate by Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin, guarantees full pay for any furloughed DHS employees as a result of a shutdown. The bill also would allow non-furloughed employees to take leave in the event lawmakers fail to reach a funding deal. During the last government shutdown in 2013, the American Federation of Government Employees claimed that managers threatened to discipline non-furloughed feds who declined to work, in some cases to avoid child care costs or other expenses while they weren’t drawing paychecks.   

Fourteen senators have signed the bill, all Democrats plus Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders.

Whether you’re bracing for a potential furlough or not, it never hurts to save for the proverbial rainy day. As it happens, this is Military Saves Week, and Thrift Savings Plan officials are available to help you celebrate with presentations for new and mid-career service members, as well as for those close to retirement.  

TSP’s theme ...

Transit Benefits, Cutting Contractor Pay, Collective Bargaining and More

Federal worker compensation is facing a pair of Kings.

No, this is not referring to a poker game. After all, the Office of Government Ethics prohibits feds from gambling while on the job.

Instead, two lawmakers -- both named King -- have introduced measures that affect federal pay and benefits. Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., has unveiled the 2015 Commuter Benefit Parity Act, which would give federal employees -- and all commuters -- the same benefit cap as those who drive to work.

The 2009 stimulus package first raised the commuter transit benefit significantly, but renewing it has proven to be a nearly annual battle. The benefit actually dropped nearly in half in 2014 to a maximum of $130 per month, but Congress voted to retroactively bump the subsidy up to $250 per month in December.

Pete King’s measure would set the monthly maximum at $235.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has his own ideas for reforming federal compensation. The more conservative King has introduced a measure to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act, which sets the minimum wage for contractors on federal public works projects. The law, originally enacted in 1931, requires federal agencies to pay laborers and mechanics the “prevailing wage” -- or the pay ...

Aggressive Lobbying on Pay Issues, Veterans Suicide Prevention and More

Two major federal employee unions have gathered for their annual legislative conferences, and while their styles may be a bit different, one thing is clear: they are both hitting Capitol Hill aggressively on behalf of their members’ job security, resources, pay and benefits. One area of focus for the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees is repealing the across-the-board cuts from sequestration scheduled to return in October.

“If I meet one more politician who tells me we need to tighten our belts, I’m going to take my belt off and I’m going to whoop his ass,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox, in a speech to union members Monday.  

NTEU President Colleen Kelley was much less combative, but her message was similar: Sequestration has “shackled agencies in myriad other ways” in addition to hiring freezes, furloughs and decreased training, she said during that union’s conference last week.  “If Congress does not adequately fund our agencies, we will fail in our efforts to deliver on our missions, period.”

Other items on the unions’ agendas include: keeping the Homeland Security Department open past Feb. 27, when funding is scheduled to run out; obtaining ...

Prescription Drug Price Hikes, Pay Raises, Benefits in the 2016 Budget and More

These days it’s rare to find a benefits change that will both save the government money and help federal employees. But the Veterans Affairs Department on Wednesday touted a new service that does just that. More than 57,000 veterans are using an online tool that allows them to track the status of their prescription medications requested through the VA Mail Order Pharmacy, the department announced.

The prescription tracker – available through My HealtheVet -- was the idea of VA employee Kenneth Siehr. The tool is designed to save money by cutting down on calls to VA medical centers, and it earned Siehr a Securing Americans Value and Efficiency (SAVE) award in 2013.  

VA is planning further enhancements to the tracker, including images of the medicine being sent and a secure messaging alert to let veterans know when an order is mailed.

“VA prescription refill online is an excellent example of how one employee looked at the process of VA prescription tracking through the eyes of our veterans and came up with an idea that better serves veterans,” said Carolyn M. Clancy, VA’s interim undersecretary for health, in a statement.

Meanwhile, some participants in the military’s TRICARE health insurance ...

TSP 1099s Are In the Mail, Vets Sick Leave Bill Advances, Abortion Restrictions and More

It’s that fun time of year. No, we’re not talking about the Super Bowl. It’s time to start assembling all your tax documents. If you received a withdrawal from your Thrift Savings Plan account or a taxable loan in 2014, your IRS Form 1099-R will be arriving soon in your mailbox. If you don’t receive it by mid-February, you can print out a copy at TSP’s My Account website.

In more uplifting news, disabled veterans newly hired by federal agencies are a bit closer to receiving paid sick leave to attend medical appointments. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee passed H.R. 313, the 2015 Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act this week, sending it to the full House for a vote. Also this week, Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., introduced similar legislation, S. 242, in the Senate.   

While new federal employees begin their careers with no sick leave balance—they accrue it over time—the bill would give veterans with a 30 percent disability rating or greater 13 days of sick leave to use for medical treatment related to their injuries.

The National Treasury Employees Union strongly supports the legislation. “The ...