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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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Insurance for Domestic Partners, Pay Cuts for Federal Agents and More

The Obama administration has been busy updating the federal government’s regulations relating to shared benefits ever since the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down the Defense of Marriage Act’s requirement that spouses must be of the opposite sex.

This week, the Office of Personnel Management updated the applicability of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program to include the same-sex domestic partners of federal employees and retirees. The new guidance corrected a final rule issued in late 2015 to define exactly who is now eligible for the benefit, which was created in 2002 and assists with health care costs for participants who need help with daily personal functions or who have a severe cognitive illness. It also covers home care or care in a nursing home or assisted living facility -- benefits not often included under health insurance plans.

OPM defined a domestic partnership as two adults in a “committed relationship,” who are “of the opposite sex or same sex.” To be eligible, the individual and the current or former fed must be each other’s sole domestic partner “and intend to remain so indefinitely,” live together, share responsibility for each other’s financial obligations, not be related and...

Help With Student Loans, Paid Sick Leave for Contractors

The Office of Personnel Management is giving agencies a March 31 deadline for reporting student loan repayment benefits data for 2015. OPM wants to know how many employees received benefits, the job classification of those employees, and the amount of money they received.

Agencies are authorized to repay certain “federally made, insured, or guaranteed” student loans in order to recruit or retain highly qualified personnel.  

As Kellie Lunney reported in October, agencies have been increasing their investment in the perk, although it remains rarely used.  

Thirty-three agencies awarded more than $58.7 million in student loan repayment benefits to 8,469 federal employees in 2014. That’s more than a 15 percent increase from 2013 in the number of employees receiving the benefit, and an 11 percent boost in agencies’ overall investment in the incentive. Employees at five agencies (Defense, Justice, State, Veterans Affairs, and the Securities and Exchange Commission) accounted for nearly 75 percent of the benefit’s recipients in 2014.

Nine other agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development and Commodities Futures Trading Commission, created student loan repayment programs in 2014, though they did not provide any awards to employees that year.

The average amount of...

TSP Weighs Its Supermodel Retirement Status, and More

The board that runs the Thrift Savings Plan, the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement program, is anxiously eyeing a new bill that uses the TSP as a model for a national retirement savings plan for millions of American workers.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., would give workers without access to an employer-sponsored retirement savings account “the ability to save for retirement through their own, personal retirement savings account modeled on the same high-quality retirement savings plan already used by federal workers and members of Congress,” according to a Merkley press release.

A provision in the legislation requires the executive director as well as three members of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board to sit on the board that would oversee Merkley’s American Savings Account. Kim Weaver, FRTIB director of external affairs, said the provision has them nervous because “obviously we take our fiduciary status and responsibilities quite seriously, and to have our executive director have a split duty to both the TSP participants and these other people is concerning.”

Weaver said she wasn’t sure if there would be a conflict of interest, but “I think it’s impossible to say that there wouldn...

The Same Old Benefits Proposals, a Disappointing Pay Raise and More Info on Military Childcare

Federal employees looking for bold, new pay and benefits proposals in President Obama’s fiscal 2017 budget likely came away disappointed. The document unveiled Tuesday sang the praises of the federal workforce, but stuck mainly with benefits requests from past budgets, such as six weeks of paid parental leave. Even the Obama administration appeared disappointed with one of its proposals: a 1.6 percent 2017 pay raise.

That level of raise is not nearly enough to keep pace with the private sector, officials wrote in budget documents. Unless the civilian pay raise is at least 2.1 percent in 2017, the administration noted, the salary bump would be below the Employment Cost Index for eight consecutive years. That would result in a decrease in federal employee pay of about 9 percent compared to the private sector, the “largest relative pay cut over an eight year period since the passage of [the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act] by a significant margin,” the budget stated.

New federal employees’ earnings have been hit the hardest, the budget highlighted, as their pay freezes were combined with higher contributions to their pensions. The White House said their compensation has dropped off more than 10...

A COLA Hike for Some, Transgender Coverage for Others

There’s some good news for service members serving in Germany and Turkey. They’ll see a cost of living increase by as much as 100 percent in some cases, starting with their Feb. 15 paycheck, according to Military.com.

Army officials said COLA is going up in Germany because goods and services here cost more than they do in the United States, as revealed by data collected from recent surveys asking military members where they shop and how much they buy on base versus off base,” Military.com reported Monday.

The Defense Travel Management Office has a COLA calculator here.

The Pentagon wants TRICARE to start covering hormone treatment for those who suffer from gender dysphoria, which occurs when individuals don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. The Defense Department published a proposed rule change in the Federal Register Monday that would make treatment available to service members and their dependents:

This rulemaking proposes to remove the categorical exclusion on treatment of gender dysphoria. This proposed change will permit coverage of all non-surgical medically necessary and appropriate care in the treatment of gender dysphoria, consistent with the program requirements applicable for treatment of all mental...

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