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

Shutdown Pay and Leave, Telework Savings, Rx Tracking and More

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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 is “Set a goal. Make a plan. Save automatically.” That seems like sound advice whether you’re in the military or not. There are two programs to make saving easier for military service members: TSP and the Defense Department’s Savings Deposit Program, or SDP. To help service members understand the benefits of both the long-term retirement plan and the short-term savings program, officials put together this handy guide: The TSP v. the SDP: Don’t Let The Letters Confuse You.

We’ll cut to the chase on the SDP: You’re guaranteed a 10 percent annual return, compounded quarterly. There’s one catch, and it’s a big one: It’s only available to service members receiving hostile fire pay/imminent danger pay. According to TSP, “You can only set up an SDP account after you’ve been deployed for 30 consecutive days or for at least one day in three consecutive months.”

You don’t have to be in the military to save money, though. As the good folks at WalletHub point out, some commuters could reap significant savings by teleworking. Just in time for National Telework Week, which begins March 2, WalletHub has created a telework savings calculator to help you figure out just how much you could save.   

According to WalletHub, 50 million U.S. employees telework, achieving an annual average savings of $10,594. The calculator allows you to enter information about your vehicle, your commute and the number of days you want to work from home to calculate how much you might save if you joined them.

Here’s where teleworkers save the most:

  • District of Columbia ($14,264)
  • New York ($11,974)
  • Maryland ($11,725)
  • Massachusetts ($11,282)
  • New Jersey ($11,276)

Here’s where they save the least:

  • Idaho ($7,666)
  • Wyoming ($7,650)
  • Nebraska ($7,578)
  • Montana ($7,369)
  • South Dakota ($7,100)

Need help making the case to your supervisor? A panel of “productivity experts” lays out the pros and cons for you below the infographic.  

In other benefits news, the Veterans Affairs Department is about to introduce a nifty prescription tracker to help vets more easily manage their medications and order refills from the VA Mail Order Pharmacy. The idea for the tool came from VA employee Kenneth Siehr, a winner of the president’s 2013 Securing Americans Value and Efficiency (SAVE) Award.

“Our nation’s veterans deserve a first-class pharmacy and quality customer service as a part of the exceptional health care available from VA,” said Siehr, the National Director for Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacies. “It is an honor to be part of serving Veterans and to have been recognized for an idea that enhances our services to them.”

And finally, the Labor Department has extended benefits under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act to legally married same-sex spouses as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, which found the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional.

(Image via Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock.com)

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