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

An End to Fitness Perks for Some Feds, Another Scam Targeting Retirees and More

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Officials at the Office of Personnel Management are warning federal workers and retirees about another scam targeting their annuities.

Last week, OPM posted on its website that companies are “aggressively” targeting federal retirees with an offer of a cash payment in exchange for some or all of someone’s future annuities. The cash payment offered is generally much less than the long-term value of the annuities, and comes with high interest rates and fees.

One such company is already under investigation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the OPM inspector general reported.

CFPB offered advice to retirees when faced with questionable loan or cash-for-annuity offers: Avoid loans with high fees and interest. Don’t sign over control of your benefits. And don’t buy life insurance that you don’t want or need—something pension advance companies sometimes require from consumers.

If you are targeted by one of these companies, contact OPM’s Office of the Inspector General at 877-499-7295. You can also report suspected scams via mail at OPM Office of the Inspector General, 1900 E St. NW Room 6400, Washington, D.C. 20415, or submit a complaint form online.

On Capitol Hill, two Virginia lawmakers have introduced a bill to expand the tax credit available to members of the military who enter combat zones to include civilian feds who serve there as well.

The Federal Employee Combat Zone Tax Parity Act (H.R.2929), sponsored by Reps. Rob Wittman, R, and Gerry Connolly, D, would exclude compensation earned by civilian federal employees from gross income in their income tax filings. The bill was also introduced in 2014, although it never escaped the House Ways and Means Committee.

“We must ensure that our federal workforce is treated with fairness and respect,” Wittman said in a statement. “Like military personnel, federal employees serving in combat zones put themselves in harm’s way and leave their families behind, increasing the stress and financial burdens on families.”

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association supports the legislation.

“Our nation’s dedicated federal employees often answer a ‘call to duty’ that can put them in harm’s way in service to our country,” NARFE President Richard Thissen said. “While they may not wear a uniform, they risk life and limb and put themselves in imminent danger, and correspondingly should receive the same tax benefits as others when serving in a combat zone.”

In agency-related news, the Environmental Protection Agency has shared more detail on its plans to offer employees separation incentives. The agency will begin offering early retirement and buyouts to employees soon, and is hoping more than 1,200 people will accept. Other jobs will be cut through attrition.

For those who remain at EPA, at least one perk will be slashed. Last week, an EPA attorney sent an email to officials with the agency’s union informing them that the administration will end all funding and subsidies to employees’ fitness benefits. The policy change both would shutter on-site fitness centers at EPA facilities and end subsidies for feds to help pay for private gym memberships.

“This serves as official notice that the agency will discontinue fitness subsidies and fitness center funding agency-wide, which will result in a savings of nearly [$900,000] per year for the agency,” the attorney wrote in an email obtained by Government Executive.

The closures will take effect at the end of July, although the date may fluctuate depending on the individual facility.

Erich Wagner is a staff correspondent covering pay, benefits and other federal workforce issues. He joined Government Executive in the spring of 2017 after extensive experience writing about state and local issues in Maryland and Virginia, most recently as editor-in-chief of the Alexandria Times. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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