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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...

Uncertainty Over a Shutdown, Forcing Hill Staffers Onto VA Health Care and More

As mid-September approaches, time is running out for lawmakers to reach a deal that would keep government open past the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Things looked promising earlier this week, with reports that progress had been made in the Senate toward a short-term continuing resolution that would bridge any gap in appropriations. But the outlook by mid-day Wednesday was a little less certain: Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid told reporters that “lots of problems” remained with a Republican stopgap spending proposal, according to The Hill.  For one, Republicans do not want any of the money allotted to fight the Zika virus in Puerto Rico to go toward Planned Parenthood clinics.

It still seems likely that a spending deal will be reached to avoid a shutdown and the ensuing disruption to pay and benefits, but federal employees will have to hold their breath a bit longer to see exactly what shape that deal will take.

As spending negotiations are under way, lawmakers are also considering reforms to the Veterans Affairs Department. The House is taking up a bill that would seek to hold all employees at VA more accountable for their job performance. The VA Accountability First...

Military Pay Raise Battle, TSP News, Help for Flood Victims and More

Lawmakers haven’t given up the fight to give troops a full 2.1 percent pay raise, despite President Obama’s plan to give both civilian and military personnel a 1.6 percent pay raise. On Tuesday, Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nevada, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he would continue to push for the larger raise, noting that this marks the fourth year in a row the president has proposed a smaller military pay raise than that mandated by the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act. Under FEPCA, unless the president issues an alternative plan, the raise is determined by the change in the Employment Cost Index minus 0.5 percent, which would come out to a 2.1 percent raise in 2017.  

“The global security environment is not getting any safer and deployments aren't getting any easier, yet our military families are constantly asked to do more with less. This is unacceptable. I remain committed to ensuring our troops and their families receive the full pay raise they have earned,” Heck said in a statement.

While Congress has the final word on any pay raise, it is unlikely lawmakers will come up with anything different...

An End to Pay Raise Suspense, Life and Health Insurance Open Seasons, and More

For loyal followers of the annual federal employee pay raise, Wednesday started out as a suspenseful day. President Obama said when he released his fiscal 2017 budget plan that he wants to give civilians a 1.6 percent boost next year, but he had until midnight on Aug. 31 to formally announce his proposal. As of noon that day, there was no word from the White House. But then by mid-afternoon, Obama had released his formal request for a 1 percent base increase for civilians and a 0.6 percent locality bump. He issued a separate plan providing a 1.6 percent boost in monthly basic pay rates for military service members.

Some civilian feds might have hoped he would miss his deadline. If he hadn’t informed Congress of his alternative pay plan on time, then the increase mandated by the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act would have kicked in. Under FEPCA, the raise would have been determined by the change in the Employment Cost Index minus 0.5 percent. In 2017, that rate would have been 2.1 percent.

Congress also still has an opportunity to change the pay raise. Lawmakers in both chambers have introduced legislation...

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