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More Help for Feds Affected by Hurricanes and More Flexibility for Those Who Want to Volunteer

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Marine One carries President Trump to survey the damage from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Marine One carries President Trump to survey the damage from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Evan Vucci / AP

The Office of Personnel Management has continued its work to help federal employees affected by the string of severe storms to hit the United States and to offer avenues for workers to contribute to the various recovery efforts.

Officials announced last week that they have granted a grace period for charities located in areas impacted by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria to allow them additional time to complete the requirements to participate in this year’s Combined Federal Campaign.

OPM said it is already in direct contact with the affected charities and will provide further guidance moving forward. The CFC officially launched Monday, but because of the storms, OPM said it will not launch the web portal for donations until later this month.

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“By giving charities a little more time, we helped maximize their opportunity to participate in the CFC to the fullest extent possible after this unprecedented series of catastrophic hurricanes,” said OPM acting Director Kathy McGettigan, in a statement. “They can continue to focus on what’s most important right now—caring for themselves and their communities—and still have the chance to join this campaign that can help them rebuild and grow.”

OPM also launched a website outlining the various rule changes and HR flexibilities put in place in light of the storms. The site features links for each hurricane, which list the various policies in place, like emergency leave transfer programs and direct hire authorities, and officials said they would continue to update the web pages as policies change and if new storms emerge.

The agency last week approved the emergency leave transfer program for federal employees impacted by Hurricane Maria. Under the program, federal workers can donate unused annual leave to feds who live or work in the area impacted by the storm, which made landfall in Puerto Rico last month.

Additionally, the Thrift Savings Plan announced Wednesday that it would extend its temporary relaxation of rules surrounding hardship withdrawals to victims of Hurricane Maria.

The rule change allows those impacted by the storm to take money out of their 401(k)-style retirement plan early without needing to wait six months before contributing again. Those seeking to take advantage of the relaxed rules must withdraw at least $1,000 and cannot make another withdrawal for at least six months.

On Capitol Hill, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday advanced a bill that would limit the amount of taxpayer money that goes to support the activities of former presidents. The Presidential Allowance Modernization Act (S. 1791), introduced by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, would cap former presidents’ pensions at $200,000 per year, and it would reduce the allowances for presidential offices over time.

Like a similar bill advanced by the House Oversight Committee last month, for the first five years, the monetary allowance for presidents to spend on expenses like office space would be capped at $500,000. For the next five years, that figure would drop to $350,000, and it would fall to $250,000 after that.

Congress passed similar legislation last year, but President Obama vetoed the bill.

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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