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

A Proposed Lawmaker Housing Stipend, a Demand for Answers on Long Term Care Premiums and More

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Outgoing Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said he sleeps in his office because of the high cost of rent in D.C. Outgoing Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said he sleeps in his office because of the high cost of rent in D.C. Rick Bowmer/AP

Outgoing Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has become the latest person to conclude that D.C. is just too expensive.

In an interview with The Hill, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman, whose last day in Congress is Friday, proposed a $2,500 per month housing stipend to help lawmakers who cannot afford a mortgage or rent on their own. He said that as a result of the high cost of rent, he sleeps in his office when he is in Washington.

“Washington, D.C., is one of the most expensive places in the world, and I flat-out cannot afford a mortgage in Utah, kids in college and a second place here in Washington, D.C.,” Chaffetz told The Hill. “I think a $2,500 housing allowance would be appropriate and a real help to have at least a decent quality of life in Washington if you’re going to expect people to spend hundreds of nights a year here.”

Members of Congress make $174,000 per year, although Chaffetz said such a proposal would save taxpayers money, particularly in terms of travel costs. After leaving government, Chaffetz will sign on as a Fox News contributor.

In other developments on the oversight committee, ranking member Rep. Gerry Connolly and Rep. Don Beyer, both Democrats representing districts in Virginia, sent a letter last week to the Office of Personnel Management following up on a request from last November for information about efforts by the agency to address rising premiums in the Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program.

In July 2016, OPM announced that premiums for the 264,000 enrollees in the program could rise as much as 126 percent, increasing monthly costs by more than $100. Federal News Radio reports that the only vendor to bid for servicing the program last year was John Hancock Life and Health Insurance Company, which has a seven-year contract.

“In order to avoid premium price shock each time there is a new FLTCIP contract, we must have an understanding of how OPM plans to address these urgent matters going forward,” the lawmakers wrote. “Our constituents cannot afford to wait until the end of the current contract to learn how the program might be altered or that they might face enormous premium increases.”

OPM and the vendor had attributed last year’s spike in premiums to poor projections about costs and an aging population that is submitting claims more frequently.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department recently approved expanded hazard pay for some pilots in the Air Force, in an effort to improve retention at the service.

Battlefield airmen currently only get incentive pay when they are deployed to hazardous environments. But according to Federal News Radio, they now will receive incentive pay regardless of where they are stationed, as part of a three-year pilot program that will begin this fall.

“The former pay structure restricted battlefield airmen with physical injuries, who would frequently lose pay prior to full recovery or it would prevent some from self-identifying and seeking mental health treatment for fear of losing their pay,” Air Force spokesman Col. Patrick Ryder told reporters. “Deployments, staff duty, special duty assignments, these were all encumbered by administrative restrictions for personnel to maintain hazardous duty pay.”

Under the new program, battlefield airmen will see a maximum stipend of $615 per month.

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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