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

Retirement Benefits At Risk, an Expansion of Navy Paternity Leave and More

Federal pay and benefits issues are not coming up as much for the Democratic presidential candidates as they are for Republicans. Last night’s Democratic debate was no exception, though there was some discussion of health care and education benefits for veterans. The Democratic candidates also touched on an issue that affects federal employees as well as other Americans: paid family leave. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and frontrunner Hillary Clinton both said they would like to create a federal mandate for paid family leave.

This would build on policies the Obama administration is already extending to the federal workforce. Obama last winter ordered federal agencies to advance employees up to six weeks of paid sick leave to care for a new child or ill family member. He also asked lawmakers to grant an additional six weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child. Lawmakers heeded his call by introducing legislation, but Congress has yet to pass the measures.

Meanwhile, the Navy is taking matters into its own hands. The service this summer tripled paid maternity leave for sailors and Marines to 18 weeks, and now officials are considering expanding paternity leave as well, the Associated Press...

Generous Paid Family Leave, Job Satisfaction, the Pay Debate and More

The District of Columbia’s government this week took a step toward what would be the most generous paid family leave policy in the country, but the benefit would only help some federal employees and federal contractors. A majority of the D.C. Council supports legislation introduced Tuesday that would grant part- and full-time workers in the city 16 weeks of paid leave to recover from an illness or a military deployment or to care for a new child or a sick parent, The Washington Post reported.

Workers making up to $52,000 annually would receive their full salary for 16 weeks. Those above that threshold would receive $1,000 per week, plus half of their additional income, up to a limit of $3,000 weekly. The benefit would be paid for through a tax on D.C. employers.

So what’s the catch? The District cannot force the federal government to participate, so federal employees who live in Maryland and Virginia would be out luck, and feds or federal contractors who live in D.C. could opt into the program but would have to pay a “small fee,” the Post said.

Depending on exactly how big that fee is...

No Change to Housing Allowance for Dual Military Couples, New Travel Per Diems, and More

Married couples who both serve in the military would continue to receive two basic housing allowances in fiscal 2016 under the final bill approved by House and Senate conferees.

Lawmakers hammering out differences between the House and Senate fiscal 2016 Defense authorization bills ultimately rejected a provision in the Senate version that would have limited dual-military married couples to a single housing allowance, whichever one was greater. The change, which would have amounted to a significant compensation cut, would have affected some 40,000 couples. Many service members and military advocates opposed the cut, as did President Obama.

The provision also would have limited the BAH for “uniformed service members above E-3 residing with other uniformed service members to 75 percent of their otherwise prevailing rate, or the E-4 without dependents rate, whichever is greater,” according to the legislation.

The decision to preserve the current BAH structure for dual-military married couples and unmarried service members living with each other is likely to survive, despite Obama’s threat to veto the current fiscal 2016 Defense authorization legislation because of a provision allowing Defense spending to sidestep sequestration caps by increasing the “emergency” Overseas Contingency Operations fund.

Congress, however, intends to reform...

Financial Help During Shutdowns, Efforts to Fix a Locality Pay Inequity and More

As Sept. 30 approaches, the possibility of a government shutdown is likely overshadowing most other pay and benefits issues on federal employees’ minds. A shutdown – after all – would mean delayed paychecks for just about everyone. For those who are furloughed, there is no guarantee of retroactive pay even after agencies reopen.

Lawmakers are already working to address the pay issue, though there is still hope of passing a short-term continuing resolution in time to avert a crisis. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., has introduced a bill that would ensure furloughed workers receive their full salaries for the time they were forced to stay home, and that employees who have to work during the closures receive their back pay immediately after the shutdown ends (there was a delay following the last shutdown in October 2013).

A bipartisan team of House members from Northern Virginia has also taken up the cause. Reps. Don Beyer, D-Va., and Rob Wittman, R-Va., sent a letter to their House colleagues on Tuesday urging them to support legislation that would provide retroactive pay to all federal employees immediately after the government reopens. 

These efforts have a good chance of success, given Congress’ strong track record of granting retroactive...

Movement on Phased Retirement, Discussions of Automatically Escalating TSP Contributions and More

It’s been three years since the enactment of a law allowing federal employees the option of phased retirement, and almost a year since the date agencies could actually start offering the program. But not much has happened.

The tide may be slowly turning. Federal News Radio reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has started a program allowing most retirement-eligible, full-time employees to ease into retirement gradually (union members are an exception, since the agency is still reportedly in talks with the National Treasury Employees Union over the arrangement).

The Housing and Urban Development Department also has notified employees via the workplace social network Yammer that a partial retirement program is on the way, said spokesman Jerry Brown. The program is still being finalized and the department’s deputy secretary still has to sign off on it, so there has been no formal announcement. But employees can expect one soon, according to Brown.

Generally speaking, phased retirement allows eligible feds to work 20 hours per week, receiving half their pay as well as half their retirement annuity. Those employees who enter phased retirement must devote at least 20 percent of their work time, or about 8 hours a pay period...