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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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Locality Pay Still in a Deep Freeze

Federal employees could be heading for their second consecutive year of a 1 percent pay raise.

President Obama announced the proposal earlier this week. Many are unhappy with the modest size of the recommendation, though clearly a small raise is better than no raise -- which was what feds received in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

However, while federal workers’ base pay likely will see a boost in 2015, that’s only one part of their overall compensation. The other aspect, locality pay rates, has been frozen since 2010. Obama has not yet recommended any adjustments for 2015.

Obama recommended a 2 percent raise to feds’ base pay in 2010, but suggested a freeze to locality pay rates. Congress instead granted a 1.5 percent base raise and a 0.5 percent boost to the location adjustments.

This two-pronged raise, which historically had been the standard approach to providing federal pay raises, created a location-based differential in the total pay hikes that employees received annually.  Employees in the Washington, D.C. region received an overall salary bump of 2.42 percent in 2010, for example, while the “rest of United States” category received just a 1.77 percent increase.

The Office of ...

Military Families Are Using Food Stamps More Than Ever

Much has been made of military compensation in recent months.

Congress reduced, then quickly restored, cuts to the pensions of working-age retirees. Pentagon officials have talked repeatedly about the need to curb rapidly expanding pay and benefits costs, while military advocacy groups have lobbied for maintaining current levels.

By at least one measure, many members of the military are still struggling to get by.

Military families used food stamps to purchase supplies at Defense Department grocery stores in fiscal 2013 more than in any other year, according to the Defense Commissary Agency.   

Members of the military redeemed almost $104 million worth of food stamps at commissaries from October 2012 through September 2013 fiscal year, as first reported by CNN. The figure has risen consistently since the economic recession hit in fiscal 2009.

Military families used about $5 million more worth of food stamps last year than in 2012. Their use of this government assistance, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has increased by more than 300 percent since 2007.

An increased use of food stamps in recent years is not unique to the military; Americans across the country have turned to the federal government’s assistance program during ...

Federal Union Worries Congress Will Target It Next

After fighting to end a three-year pay freeze, reverse sequestration spending caps and avoid pension contribution hikes for current federal employees in 2013, unions representing the federal workforce are turning their attention to new obstacles in 2014.

For the American Federation of Government Employees, the primary focus could be protecting its own existence.

At its 2014 Legislative and Mobilization conference, AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. identified attempts to cut official time for federal employee union representatives and efforts to ban automatic dues deduction as major existential threats to the organization and its ability to fight for its members.

Official time allows certain employees to perform union activities while on the clock at their federal jobs. Cox and other unions have defended the practice as a fair tradeoff for the mandate that requires federal employee unions to represent all bargaining units in negotiations, whether or not they pay dues to a union. Republicans in the House and Senate have introduced several proposals in the last few years to ban or restrict the use of official time. Cox emphasized the need to fight any attempts to pass these bills into law, including by quietly attaching them to larger pieces of ...

Feds Still Fighting for Additional Shutdown Pay

Now that Congress has passed a two-year budget deal, and appropriated money to federal agencies for the remainder of the fiscal year, the memories of closed national parks and back pay arguments that resulted from last year’s government shutdown seem like a distant memory.

Well, not for everyone.

More than 1,000 employees forced to work during the shutdown on just the promise of a paycheck when government reopened have joined a lawsuit against their employer: Uncle Sam.

Five Bureau of Prisons employees originally filed the suit in November, alleging the government violated the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act when it delayed their pay. About 1.3 million employees were “exempted” from the shutdown and required to work.

The plaintiffs in Martin et. al. v. The United States are seeking compensation of $7.25 multiplied by the number of hours worked between Oct. 1 and Oct. 5, the period in which paychecks were delayed. These damages will help cover the bills and expenses federal workers incurred during the shutdown, according to Mehri and Skalet, the law firm representing the employees.

Military Benefits

Members of the armed forces were largely exempt from the government shutdown; they will probably not be ...

DHS Ends Extra Overtime for Many Employees

Sorry, “desk jockeys”: No more undeserved overtime for you.

The Homeland Security Department is scrapping a controversial overtime program for certain employees, caving to pressure from congressional leaders who drew attention recently to its reported abuse.

DHS will now ban employees who work in headquarters offices and do not qualify for the overtime, full-time instructors and others receiving extra pay inappropriately from taking “administratively uncontrollable overtime.”

AUO is a designed to provide bonus payments to law enforcement personnel, such as Border Patrol agents, who are forced to work more than eight-hour shifts because they are chasing down a criminal or stationed hours from their base office, for example. A 2013 report from the Office of Special Counsel found BP employees at six offices who abused the program to the tune of $9 million annually.

The announcement came ahead of a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee hearing to examine the abuse, and after a similar November hearing in the House.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, introduced a bill in November to overhaul the pay system at Customs and Border Protection, which would change  Border Patrol agents’ work schedule from eight-hour to  10-hour shifts. Under the ...