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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

FAA Furloughs

With little hope for a legislative solution to extend the Federal Aviation Administration's funding authority before Congress returns from recess, nearly 4,000 agency employees could be without pay until September. Furloughed workers will see no interruption in benefits and have a few options for earning a paycheck in the meantime.

FAA employees out on furlough may be reimbursed for lost wages when they return to work, but Congress must authorize back pay and is not obligated to do so. Carl Goldman, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 26, said his union is encouraging furloughed workers to apply for unemployment insurance. Employees could see a lapse of up to two weeks before receiving checks and they will be required to return any funds received if Congress decides to grant retroactive pay, he said.

AFSCME -- which represents furloughed civil, electronic and aerospace engineers; attorneys; staff assistants; secretaries; and aviation safety inspectors -- also is assisting employees who were denied unemployment benefits because of an error in their wage history. The union is working with FAA, the Labor Department and the District of Columbia to correct the error, Goldman said.

The NASA Federal Credit Union also has expanded its furlough relief loan program and is offering FAA employees 12-month loans with zero percent interest for the first 30 days.

According to Office of Personnel Management guidance, furloughed employees may take other jobs to pay the bills. Certain outside employment could be prohibited, however, and employees should consult their agency ethics office before seeking other work to ensure there's no conflict of interest -- a step FAA said its employees are aware of.

Furloughed workers will not see a break in health or life insurance coverage. According to OPM, Federal Employees Health Benefits Program participants are covered while in nonpay status for up to one year. The government will continue its contributions to the program during a furlough and also is responsible for advancing the employee's share. Participants then can choose between paying the agency directly on a current basis, or having the premiums accumulate and then withheld from their pay upon returning to work. Coverage continues even if agencies do not make premium payments on time.

Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance coverage also continues, and both the employee and agency contributions continue if the employee's salary in each pay period is sufficient to cover deductions. If the employee's paycheck is insufficient to cover his or her withholding, then coverage will continue for up to 12 months without cost to the employee or agency.

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