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

Time Off to Vote, a Meager Cost-of-Living Bump and Free Flu Shots

Lines are likely to be long at the polls on Nov. 8, so federal employees who want to have a say in choosing their next boss might want to start thinking now about the best time to vote. The Office of Personnel Management on Monday issued a memo reminding agency heads that the federal government has a policy of allowing employees excused absences to vote under certain circumstances.

Specifically, if federal workers do not have three hours either before or after work to get to their polling place while it is still open, then they can receive an excused absence long enough so they have that three-hour window to cast their ballot. Employees should choose the option that will be the least disruptive to their work, OPM noted, providing the following examples:

 If an employee is scheduled to work from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the employee’s polling place is open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., the employee should not be granted excused absence for voting, since the employee would still have at least 3 hours after the end of his or her workday to vote.  However, if an...

Cost of Living Adjustment, Hurricane Relief and More

Military personnel and their family members affected by Hurricane Matthew could face less red tape in seeking medical care. TRICARE is has waived referral requirements for beneficiaries enrolled in TRICARE Prime and TRICARE Prime Remote in the entire state of Florida and within 100 miles of the East Coast through Oct. 20. Beneficiaries in Cuba enrolled in TRICARE Prime Overseas may seek care (without a waiver) in the United States until Nov. 1.  

Enrollees also should contact Express Scripts to find out if emergency refill procedures are in place. If so, beneficiaries may take their prescription bottle to any TRICARE retail network pharmacy, or, if they use a retail chain, try to fill the prescription in another store in that chain. Beneficiaries may request assistance from another pharmacy, but it's at that pharmacy's discretion to help, according to an Air Force release. 

Next Tuesday, the government will release new cost of living adjustment figures, which could affect retirement benefits, including Social Security. Don’t expect to see any significant increase, though. The COLA is based on increases in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, which is calculated monthly by the Bureau of Labor...

Higher Medicare Premiums, New Fertility Benefits, Back Pay Calculator and More

Are you owed back pay from the government? The Office of Personnel Management has created a handy calculator to help agencies calculate the correct amount along with any interest owed. The tools is designed (with step-by-step instructions) to assist agency human resources and finance offices determine payment of back pay, interest and reasonable attorney fees when employees are found to have been affected by an unwarranted personnel action that affected their pay.

OPM issued a fact sheet that includes guidance to agencies, links to the new back pay calculator and a list of back pay interest rates.

In case you haven’t heard, Election Day is Nov. 8. The Defense Department is reminding overseas personnel that they should submit absentee ballots as soon as possible if they plan to vote in the November presidential election. You need to know the voting requirements in your state:

Each state sets its own deadlines for registering to vote and its options for how absentee ballots are sent to voters. States can also differ in their requirements and deadlines regarding how to complete and submit absentee ballots. Some states require ballots to be postmarked by Election Day while others must receive ballots by Election...

Insurance Premiums Go Up, Up, Up; Shutdown Scare Ends; and More

This story has been updated to reflect House passage of the continuing resolution. 

Federal employees likely breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday afternoon, as Congress finally passed a short-term funding bill to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Lawmakers broke a stalemate by agreeing to include funding to deal with the water crisis in Flint, Mich., in the 2016 Water Resources Development Act. The Flint funding, which is in the Senate version but not the House version of the waterways bill, became the major sticking point in negotiations over a continuing resolution.

Once the agreement was reached, the Senate passed the CR by a vote of 72-26. The short-term continuing resolution then headed to the House, where lawmakers passed it by a vote of 342-85. The stopgap measure would last through Dec. 9, but Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, has offered an amendment that would automatically extend the CR through Jan. 18 if lawmakers failed to agree on a subsequent deal to keep the government open after Dec. 9.

With the weight of a possible shutdown off their shoulders, federal employees can now turn to the other pressing issue facing them: insurance premium...

Shutdown Limbo, a Hearing on the Long-Term Care Premium Spike and More

Federal employees are still waiting to find out whether the government will remain open after Oct. 1, and it looks like they will wait a bit longer. The Senate has been working on a deal for a short-term continuing resolution to fund agencies once the fiscal year ends and avoid a shutdown. But as of Wednesday afternoon, there was no final deal.

In better news, it appears that federal employees are slightly happier with their jobs this year than they were last year. The “global satisfaction index” based on results of the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey increased 1 point, from 60 in 2015 to 61 this year, the Office of Personnel Management announced. Pay is one factor that goes into the index, along with feelings about individual jobs and the overall organization.

It’s safe to say many feds still are not happy with one aspect of their pay and benefits, however: a sharp spike in premiums for the Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program. The rate increase -- which averages 83 percent, or $111 more per month, for enrollees who opt not to change their coverage – probably isn’t going to be reversed, unfortunately. But the silver lining is that...

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