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When is a Windfall not a Windfall?

What if the government got rid of the Windfall Elimination Provision? Well, it did in April for some retirees--but unfortunately not those covered under the Civil Service Retirement System.

More on that in a bit. First, a little background.

Congress created the WEP in 1983 as a way to level the playing field for Social Security recipients. It covers employees who receive pensions related to work for which they didn’t pay Social Security taxes and who also receive Social Security retirement benefits from other work they performed that was covered by Social Security taxes. Federal retirees under CSRS, along with others who receive pensions from work not covered by Social Security, appear to be low wage earners from the standpoint of their Social Security earnings record. Under the WEP, their Social Security benefits are reduced in order to, the theory goes, eliminate the “windfall” they’d get from receiving full Social Security.

According to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, nearly 900,000 retired federal, state and local government employees are currently affected by the WEP. That number grows by about 60,000 retirees each year.

For many years, AFSCME, the National Active and Retired Federal ...

How About Some Good News?

In 1974, Rufus and Chaka Khan released "Tell Me Something Good," a catchy tune written by Stevie Wonder. It was one of those songs that made you turn up the volume and roll down the windows, so I’m using it as inspiration this week. With so much negative news about federal retirement lately, I’ve come up with a mini-hit parade of good things that are going on.

Self Plus One Health Coverage

The Office of Personnel Management is in the process of implementing a new enrollment type, self plus one, under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program effective in January 2016. The plan will cover the enrollee and one eligible family member (a spouse, dependent child under 26, or dependent child 26 or older who is incapable of self-support because of a mental or physical disability that existed before they turned 26).

You’ll have to act during the 2015 FEHBP open season this fall to take advantage of the new option. It’ll be less expensive than the current self plus family choice. What remains to be seen is whether for a married federal couple (two federal employees or retirees), self plus one will be less expensive ...

How to Prepare for a Retirement Storm

As you probably know by now, there are some serious threats to federal retirement benefits on the table this year in Congress. GovExec reports have been keeping you well apprised of these proposals. Here’s how National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association President Richard Thissen describes the situation:

The House and Senate passed budget resolutions in March that cut billions of dollars’ worth of pay and benefits from federal employees and retirees. The House budget proposed $318 billion in “savings” by raising the cost of health insurance for all [Federal Employees Health Benefits Program] participants, eliminating federal jobs, increasing retirement contributions for current employees and, perhaps most shocking, changing the rate of return on the Thrift Savings Plan G Fund. The Senate budget, while less specific in how it would cut costs, still asks the federal community for $170 billion toward deficit reduction.

NARFE’s legislative staff will earn their keep this year fighting such proposals.

Those of you who read this column regularly know that over the past 10 years I’ve  been an eternal optimist. I’ve reminded readers time and again that few legislative proposals actually become the law of the land. While federal retirement benefits ...

Don’t Mess With the G Fund

What is unique about the Thrift Savings Plan? Well, first of all, it’s a retirement savings plan specifically designed for federal employees and military service members. Another notable fact about the TSP is its very low administrative costs -- 29 cents per $1,000 invested per year. For some 401(k) plans, such costs can be as high as $24.50 for every $1,000 invested.

But more than any of these characteristics, one thing really sets the TSP apart: the G Fund, a short-term Treasury security that is exclusive to the TSP and is guaranteed by the U.S. government. Nearly 40 percent of the money invested in TSP accounts is in the G Fund--almost $200 billion.

The G Fund aims to deliver a rate of return higher than inflation while avoiding exposure to default risk and market price fluctuations. But it’s currently at risk of losing that feature. As GovExec’s Eric Katz reported in late March,  a House Budget Committee report takes issue with how the interest rate on the G Fund is calculated, arguing that “those who participate in the G Fund are rewarded with a long-term rate on what is essentially a short-term security ...

9 Questions (and Answers) for Federal Couples

A few weeks ago, my colleague Bob Leins and I conducted a webinar on the topic of retirement benefit issues for federal couples -- those in which one or both of the spouses are federal employees. The presentation led to lots of audience questions. This week, I thought I’d address some of them.

How do you get proof that you have been enrolled in a family plan under the federal Employees Health Benefits program from your human resources department?

This question relates to the “five-year test” of continuous retirement coverage in order to carry FEHBP into retirement. If you were covered under your spouse’s self and family enrollment and are now covered under your own self only enrollment, your records may not show five years of continuous coverage. In these cases, either your spouse or your HR specialist can obtain your spouse’s FEHBP enrollment form from their official personnel folder and include this with your other FEHBP documentation when your retirement case is prepared for submission to the Office of Personnel Management.

If I’ve been married less than five years at retirement, does my spouse need to be vested for five years or will my vesting be ...