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

New Rules for Juggling Telework and Childcare, Mileage Rate Cuts, FEHB Access and More

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First the good news: Federal pay is going up. The Office of Personnel Management just published the 2017 pay tables for the various categories of government employees, including those in the SES, the General Schedule, the Veterans Health Administration, and the Foreign Service. The rates of pay for uniformed service members and federal employees covered under special rates of pay also are available as well as pay adjustments for certain prevailing rate (wage) employees.

Now the bad news: House lawmakers just made it easier to cut federal jobs and pay. A resolution adopted Tuesday allows Congress to reduce the number of federal workers at specific agencies or cut their compensation as a provision of an appropriations bill.

As Eric Katz reported:

The House Policy Committee said the measure will bring back what was known as the “Holman Rule” before Congress eliminated it in 1983. The rule will allow lawmakers to cut the workforce or compensation for employees only at the agencies covered by the specific spending bill in which the provision or amendment is included.

The option will be in effect only through 2017, so agencies should get ready for some surprises as appropriations bills make their way through Congress later this year. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, whose Maryland district is home to many government workers, said Tuesday the rule change would allow for short-sighted pay cuts that unfairly scapegoat federal employees.

While reducing the size of government has long been on the GOP agenda, Republicans first will try to figure out how to make good on their pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In the meantime, Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., has introduced a bill that would allow businesses to exclude spouses of active duty military personnel from inclusion under Obamacare’s insurance mandate. That’s because they already are covered under the military TRICARE insurance program.

Stars and Stripes reported that Hudson introduced the bill after visiting a local business created by two Army spouses that employs other military spouses. The owners were concerned about keeping their company, R. Riveter, small enough to avoid the costs associated with the ACA mandate. Hudson believes his bill will encourage employers to hire more military spouses.  

In other pay and benefits news:

Mileage rates are going down. The General Services Administration has adjusted mileage reimbursement rates. Employees who use their personal vehicles for work (with their supervisor’s approval) will be reimbursed at the rate of 53.5 cents per mile. If you use your motorcycle, it’s now 50.5 cents per mile, and if you’re fortunate enough to use your personal airplane for business travel (with approval, of course), the rate will be $1.15.

Certain Indian tribe employees will now have access to the Federal Employees Health Benefits program. OPM finalized a rule granting access to the program under the Affordable Care Act and the 2009 Indian Health Care Improvement Act. The final rule clarifies payment and administration issues and states: “A tribal employer may neither contribute towards, nor offer, an alternative employer-sponsored health insurance plan for tribal employees within the billing unit(s) for which the employer seeks to purchase FEHB coverage, with the exception of a collectively bargained alternative plan.”

Agencies face new requirements in hiring and supporting employees with disabilities. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has amended regulations requiring agencies to take affirmative action for individuals with disabilities—it’s not enough to just not discriminate. As Eric Katz reported: "All federal agencies’ must, beginning in 2018, strive to compose 12 percent of their workforces with disabled individuals, including 2 percent who have what EEOC and the Office of Personnel Management define as “targeted” disabilities." The rule spells out specific hiring and recruiting requirements, and mandates that agencies provide personal services to disabled employees who need them to do their jobs, even if such services are not directly work related, such as help with dressing or using the restroom. 

There’s new guidance for employees who telework while their kids are at home. As every parent knows, children aren't always conducive to productivity at work. OPM released an addendum to its existing telework policy to clarify the rules for agencies and teleworking parents.  

"While the presence of dependents in the household should not be an absolute bar to teleworking, employees should not be engaging in dependent care activities when performing official duties. While an occasional, brief interruption may occur when a dependent is present in the home, teleworkers must be careful to keep interruptions to a minimum to avoid disruptions in work accomplishment."

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