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

Feds Still Fighting for Additional Shutdown Pay

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Now that Congress has passed a two-year budget deal, and appropriated money to federal agencies for the remainder of the fiscal year, the memories of closed national parks and back pay arguments that resulted from last year’s government shutdown seem like a distant memory.

Well, not for everyone.

More than 1,000 employees forced to work during the shutdown on just the promise of a paycheck when government reopened have joined a lawsuit against their employer: Uncle Sam.

Five Bureau of Prisons employees originally filed the suit in November, alleging the government violated the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act when it delayed their pay. About 1.3 million employees were “exempted” from the shutdown and required to work.

The plaintiffs in Martin et. al. v. The United States are seeking compensation of $7.25 multiplied by the number of hours worked between Oct. 1 and Oct. 5, the period in which paychecks were delayed. These damages will help cover the bills and expenses federal workers incurred during the shutdown, according to Mehri and Skalet, the law firm representing the employees.

Military Benefits

Members of the armed forces were largely exempt from the government shutdown; they will probably not be so lucky when it comes to their future pay and benefits.

The soon-to-be-released fiscal 2015 Defense Department budget likely will include smaller pay raises for active-duty service members and reductions to housing allowances, according to multiple reports. Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox alluded to that possibility at a Senate hearing last week.

The Pentagon would like to leave more comprehensive reform on issues such as health care and retirement benefits to its Military Compensation and Retirement Commission, which is due to issue a report in early 2015.

In the meantime, however, Defense could take smaller steps, like capping pay raises at 1 percent -- the rate of this year's pay increase -- and cutting the subsidy it provides for housing costs, an allowance that has risen dramatically since 2000.

COLA Reduction

One cut to military compensation is already on the books: the 1 percent reduction to cost-of-living adjustments for working-age military retirees’ pensions.

Lawmakers have made it sound inevitable in recent weeks that they would roll back the cut, which was included in the recent budget agreement, and are moving forward with proposals to do so. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduced an omnibus veterans’ benefits package this week, which includes a repeal of the COLA cut.

The bill, which includes additional health care options for veterans, a House-backed plan to require public universities to offer in-state tuition to all veterans, as well as an expansion of survivor benefits and other initiatives, would be paid for through savings at the Veterans Affairs Department and by using offsets from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will consider a separate, stand-alone measure to repeal the COLA reduction Thursday.

(Image via Jim Barber/Shutterstock.com)

Eric Katz joined Government Executive in the summer of 2012 after graduating from The George Washington University, where he studied journalism and political science. He has written for his college newspaper and an online political news website and worked in a public affairs office for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. Most recently, he worked for Financial Times, where he reported on national politics.

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