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Traveling Feds Have (a Little) More Money to Spend

The government shutdown last month overshadowed lots of other news affecting federal employees, including the new per diem rates for government travelers, which took effect on Oct. 1.

Federal employees traveling on government business received a small boost for lodging in fiscal 2014. The standard lodging rate is now $83 per day, up from $77 per day in fiscal 2013. The standard rate for meals and incidentals remains $46 per day. That’s $129 per day for food and lodging for feds traveling on the standard rate in fiscal 2014.

The increase marks the first change in per diem rates since fiscal 2012. The General Services Administration, which establishes travel per diems, last year froze rates at fiscal 2012 levels.

GSA’s per diem is about 5 percent lower than the average daily rate of the market. While the standard lodging rate applies to about 2,600 counties, 400 additional “non-standard areas” receive individual calculations. Feds traveling in cities with high costs of living, such as New York City, receive inflated reimbursements.

Some of the non-standard areas, such as Washington, D.C., saw a slight decrease in their per diem rates, while others got a boost.

GSA also eliminated the ...

FEHBP As a Model of Health

Of the Republican proposals to eliminate, modify and otherwise undermine the health care reform law known as Obamacare, two would affect federal employees. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., wants to move government workers out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and into the insurance exchanges created by the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Conversely, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., thinks FEHBP is so good that all Americans should be allowed in the program.

“The American people should have as easy a consumer experience as federal employees do,” Issa said when he introduced legislation -- the Equal Healthcare Access Act -- in October to open FEHBP to everyone.

Neither proposal has a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming reality for many reasons, including politics and the difficulties inherent in implementing change on such a massive scale. But the two ideas beg an important question: Are such proposals really necessary? The irony of the debate over Obamacare is that its structure already closely resembles FEHBP, which is one of the most successful health care plans in the country.

FEHBP served as an important model for the Affordable Care Act. Some of the central and most consumer-driven components of Obamacare, such as making sure insurance companies ...

Back Pay Is On the Way

This story has been updated.

The government shutdown is over and payroll is back up and running. By the end of this week, most of the federal workforce will have received retroactive pay for the 16-day shutdown.

In fact, thousands of federal employees already have received back pay to make whole the partial paycheck they got during the shutdown, which lasted from Oct. 1 through Oct. 16. The Interior Business Center, run by the Interior Department, handles payroll for 42 government agencies and 240,000 federal employees. IBC deposited back pay on Tuesday to 174,994 federal employees in 25 agencies -- a week before their regularly scheduled paycheck on Oct. 29, according to Mike Fernandez, IBC's communications manager. "The payment for most employees will be 65 percent of gross pay for approximately 32 furlough hours during the biweekly pay period ending Oct. 5," Fernandez said by email. "The balance (35 percent) has been withheld to accomodate deductions and taxes."

Agencies that chose to participate in the "off-cycle" back payments include the Education, Interior, and Transportation departments as well as the Social Security Administration.

Perhaps this makes up for IBC’s data entry error last month that delayed the paychecks ...

More Uncertainty Awaits Feds After the Shutdown

The government shutdown is winding to an end, but federal employees are not out of the woods quite yet.

The shutdown, which has -- for varying lengths of times -- furloughed roughly 900,000 federal employees and temporarily cut off paychecks for many more, appeared primed to end Wednesday, 16 days since the government last operated at full strength. All federal employees, including those on furlough, will likely be reimbursed for the time they missed.

They still, however, face uncertainty.

“It is apparent that the deal that is being concocted is an inadequate one because it appears it will be a short period of time,” Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., said at a community event Wednesday with local business leaders and federal stakeholders. “Well that short period of time reinforces people’s notions they can’t depend on their federal paycheck coming in on a regular basis. They can’t depend upon the Congress to appropriate money on a regular basis.”

The compromise plan only provides government funding until Jan. 15, likely culminating in another confrontation between House Republicans and Senate Democrats over the implementation of sequestration cuts in 2014.

“There’s not much reason to celebrate,” Moran said.

In the interim, federal ...

Banks Reach Out to Furloughed Feds

The shutdown has left federal employees nationwide unsure of exactly when – or if – they will receive their next paycheck. A bill that would grant retroactive pay for furloughed employees is in limbo, stuck in the Senate. And even though “excepted” employees working during the shutdown know they will eventually be paid, it is unclear when that will happen; President Obama has vowed to veto a measure that would have ensured they didn’t miss any paychecks.

It’s not all bad news for federal employees trying to keep up with their bills, however.

Many banks across the country have pledged to help workers affected by the shutdown. TD Bank has launched TD Cares, a program that advances furloughed feds $1,000 without any interest, reimburses late fees on credit cards and adjusts mortgage payments through Nov. 2.  

"Uncertainty surrounding the government shutdown has our customers concerned and TD is here to help," Nandita Bakhshi, executive vice president at TD Bank, said in a statement. "By launching TD Cares, our hope is that we can make it easier for our customers to cover their bills and make ends meet if they're not receiving their pay."

The Navy Federal Credit Union ...