Progress on the Retirement Backlog, and a Panel Appears Set to Consider Shutdown Bills

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

The Office of Personnel Management brought its backlog of pending retirement claims below 18,000 last month for the first time since September 2018.

According to statistics released by OPM this week, the agency received 6,993 new claims in April, a decrease from the more than 10,000 new requests in March as well as from April 2018, when OPM received 8,390 new claims.

OPM processed 9,392 claims last month, nearly 3,000 more than it received, bringing the backlog to 17,802 outstanding requests, down from 20,201 in March and more than 23,000 at its peak in February.

The annual deluge of new retirement requests, which typically occurs in January and February, bled into March this year, likely resulting from the 35-day partial government shutdown, which shuttered many agency HR offices, temporarily preventing some federal employees from filing for retirement.

Overall, retirement claims have decreased so far this year from the same period in 2018. According to OPM, it has received 41,097 new claims in 2019, compared to 44,037 from January through April last year.

Meanwhile, the House Oversight and Reform Committee appears set to consider bills aimed at preserving federal employee benefits during any future government shutdown. The panel was set to vote Wednesday morning on two measures introduced by Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., although that proceeding was postponed.

The Ensuring Federal Employees Health Benefits Program Coverage During Shutdowns Act (H.R. 2003) would declare employees tasked with implementing the federal government’s health insurance program and those who enroll employees in FEHBP are deemed excepted during a future lapse in appropriations. The bill was introduced after reports that federal workers were unable to change their insurance during the partial government shutdown after major life events, like the birth of a child.

And the Ensuring Federal Employees Dental/Vision Program Coverage During Shutdowns Act (H.R. 2004) would prevent dental and vision insurers from kicking furloughed and excepted feds off of their plans for nonpayment during a shutdown. Currently, FEDVIP remains covered for the first two scheduled pay periods during a lapse in appropriations, after which insurers will bill employees directly.

A spokesperson for the committee did not respond to a request for comment about why the hearing was postponed, or when it would be rescheduled.