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Back Pay for Some Contractors, TSP Loosens Loan Rules and More

A weekly round-up of pay and benefits news.

More than a dozen House Democrats sponsored a bill Tuesday that would guarantee back pay for some federal contractors following the end of the partial government shutdown.

Introduced by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., the 2019 Low-Wage Federal Contractor Employee Back Pay Act (H.R. 339) would compensate contractors who provide retail, food, custodial and security services at federal agencies shuttered during the partial government shutdown. The bill, which was also introduced, but not acted upon, in December, specifies that the “government shall provide compensation,” not the workers’ employers.

Although Congress typically provides back pay to furloughed federal employees after the government reopens, the same cannot be said for contractors. Joining Norton in sponsoring the bill were Reps. Don Beyer, D-Va.; Suzanne Bonamici, D-Wash.; Gerry Connolly, D-Va.; Ro Khanna, D-Calif.; Grace Meng, D-N.Y.; Gwen Moore, D-Wis.; Mark Pocan, D-Wis.; Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.; Jamie Raskin, D-Md.; Lori Trahan, D-Mass.; David Trone, D-Md.; and Jennifer Wexton, D-Va.

“Low-wage federal contract workers can least afford to be penalized by President Trump’s shutdown,” Norton said in a statement. “Unlike federal employees, who have always been made whole after a shutdown, many low-wage workers, who are the focus of our bill, earn little more than the minimum wage and receive few, if any, benefits.”

Norton introduced similar legislation after the 2013 government shutdown, although it never received a vote.

Officials at the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings plan, whose operations are not impacted by the shutdown, announced Tuesday that federal workers who are either furloughed or working without pay will be allowed to suspend Thrift Savings Plan loan payments without threat of default.

Typically, TSP officials require people who are placed in a “non-pay” status to provide agency documentation before suspending loan payments without risk of default. But given the partial government shutdown, the agency is waiving that rule.

“The TSP does not need documentation of your furlough at this time,” the agency said. “If your loan payments were up to date prior to the furlough, missing one or two payments will not cause your loan to be in default . . . As long as retroactive pay is approved, all missed loan payments will be submitted and posted to your loan.”

Back on Capitol Hill, Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., reintroduced legislation to expand access to benefits related to veterans’ exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act passed the House by a vote of 382-0 last year, but failed to receive a vote in the Senate.

The bill would expand the benefits provided to veterans with diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange by the 1991 Agent Orange Act to include those who served in the so-called Blue Water Navy. Currently the law only covers veterans who served on land in Vietnam, or in the country’s inland waterways.

“This legislation would extend the presumption of exposure of Agent Orange to our Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans,” Roe said in a statement. “I hope that my colleagues in the House and Senate waste no time in passing this bill and sending it to President Trump so we can ensure that Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans receive the benefits they deserve.”

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