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

Contractor Sick Leave, Congress’ Self-Imposed Pay Freeze, Military Pay and More

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It’s been about six months since President Obama signed an executive order guaranteeing federal contractors paid sick leave, and the haggling over how that rule will be implemented has started. The Labor Department’s proposed regulation on Executive Order 13706 is “broad in its application, overly prescriptive in its implementation, and overly punitive in its enforcement,” said the Professional Services Council, an industry group, in a statement late last week.

When the executive order came out in September 2015, PSC contended that while it supports paid sick leave for federal contractors, many already provide that benefit and they require flexibility to administer that and other types of leave as they see fit. The group advanced a similar argument against the draft regulations last week, noting the new rules would impose extra compliance costs on contractors.   

“First the EO, and now the proposed rule, have turned a straightforward mandate to provide certain employees with one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked on covered contracts into a detailed and intrusive compliance and enforcement regime,” stated PSC Executive Vice President and Counsel Alan Chvotkin. “The proposed rule dictates the minutiae of compliance without regard for variations in covered contractors’ businesses and their personnel policies.”

The new policy on sick leave is scheduled to take effect in 2017. Stay tuned.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers have moved toward freezing their own pay for the eight consecutive year. But they appear to be taking a more generous approach to military pay. The House Armed Services Committee has started working on the fiscal 2017 Defense Authorization bill, and the initial version includes a 2.1 percent pay hikes for troops, according to a report in Federal News Radio. That is 0.5 percentage points higher than the 1.6 percent raise President Obama recommended for the military and civilians in his fiscal 2017 budget. The authorization bill is still in the very early stages, though. The Subcommittee on Military Personnel was marking it up on Wednesday.

In other news about military benefits, TRICARE has announced that it is expanding its coverage of mental health treatment to allow for longer stays at hospitals or residential treatment facilities. Previously, adult enrollees who needed in-patient psychiatric hospitalization were covered for 30 days per benefit year, and children and adolescents were covered for 45 days. Partial hospitalization was limited to 60 days. Those requiring more time needed a waiver. There was also a 150 day limit on residential treatment care for participants under age 21.

All of those time limits have been lifted, TRICARE said. Now, the services “may be covered as long as the care is considered medically or psychologically necessary and appropriate,” the military health care program announced.

The changes put mental health services on par with other medical and surgical care, which have not historically been subject to day limits, the statement noted. For more details on mental health offerings, visit the TRICARE Web site.

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For those veterans who are trying to start families but are having difficulty due to reproductive injuries sustained during their military duty, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., has introduced a bill (H.R. 4892) that may help. The legislation would offer these veterans $20,000 to use as they would like, for adoption fees or other personal expenses.

“This bill is about providing those who sacrificed more than most can imagine fair compensation and the opportunity to raise a family,” Miller said in a statement. “If a veteran does decide to use this benefit to start a family of their own, the real winners would be the children. Who better to raise America’s next generation than the bravest of our current generation? But no matter how each affected veteran might utilize this benefit, one thing is clear: they earned it.”

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