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

TSP Hardship Withdrawal Programs Extended, OPM Waives Pay Cap for Disaster Volunteers and More

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Officials at the 401(k)-style retirement savings program for federal employees announced Monday that they would extend the deadline for workers and retirees impacted by Hurricane Maria to make withdrawals from their accounts under relaxed rules.

In September, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico as a category 4 hurricane, devastating the island. More than a month later, most residents are still without power and other necessities.

Thrift Savings Plan officials in October announced the program would allow federal workers who work or live in an area impacted by Maria to take hardship withdrawals without incurring a six-month contribution ban. Such withdrawals can also be used to assist an eligible family member who works or lived in an area hit by the storm.

The original deadline for submissions was set for Jan. 24, but with Monday’s extension, federal employees and retirees now have until March 8 to request a hardship withdrawal. The funds must be distributed by March 15.

Officials also announced Monday that the TSP also would extend the relaxed hardship withdrawal rules to federal employees and retirees who were affected by the wildfires in California last month. Any TSP enrollee who lives or works in an area impacted by the wildfires will have until March 8 to request a hardship withdrawal under this provision.

The TSP’s governing body, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, announced Wednesday that it could soon find a new vendor to administer its fixed income (F) fund. The board released a request for proposals for a manager to handle the fund’s $28.2 billion in assets, as of last month.

The winner of the bid process would receive a one-year contract to run the F Fund beginning in March 2018, with the option for four one-year extensions. The fund, along with all of TSP’s other portfolios, is currently managed by BlackRock Institutional Trust Company.

With the federal government engaged in recovery efforts following several weather-related disasters earlier this fall, the Office of Personnel Management announced last week that agencies can waive the biweekly premium pay cap for federal employees who volunteer to aid in disaster relief efforts. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration both have solicited volunteers from across the federal government to help with cleanup and recovery work in the Southeast United States.

Instead of the typical biweekly cap, agencies may employ an annual premium pay cap for employees working in connection with recovery efforts connected to hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan said in a memo.

“I am taking this opportunity to invoke my authority as acting OPM director to designate Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria as qualifying emergencies for purposes of applying the annual premium pay cap,” she wrote. “This determination applies to all federal employees covered by the Title 5 premium pay provisions, including those participating as FEMA Surge Capacity Force volunteers and SBA Disaster Assistance Program detailees.”

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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