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House Approves Shutdown Back Pay for Contractors, Trump Signs Law Expanding Vet Disability Benefits

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

The House on Tuesday voted 227-194 to pass its second minibus spending package for fiscal 2020, a bill that includes a provision that would provide back pay to low-wage federal contractors for time they spent furloughed or on mandatory leave as a result of the 35-day partial government shutdown.

The measure is part of the appropriations bill setting funding levels for the Commerce, Justice, Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development departments (H.R. 3055). Unlike federal employees, contractors at unfunded agencies who were furloughed, forced to leave or laid off were not given back pay after the government reopened in January.

The bill would provide back pay to those employees, and order the restoration of leave if they were required to take time off during the lapse in appropriations. The bill caps compensation on a weekly basis at what an employee’s pay would have been or $965, whichever is lower.

It is not clear whether the Senate will include the provision in its version of the bill—that chamber has not begun consideration of any appropriations legislation. The White House, as part of a broad veto threat over various parts of the House minibus, said last week that it opposes providing back pay for contractors, in part citing logistical challenges.

Meanwhile, President Trump on Tuesday signed into law a bill that will grant disability benefits to more Vietnam War veterans.

Until Tuesday, disability benefits for veterans suffering from conditions associated with exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange had been limited to those who physically served in Vietnam. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (H.R. 299), introduced by Reps. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Phil Roe, R-Tenn., extends those benefits to Navy veterans with similar conditions who previously were excluded because they served offshore of the country.

“Today, we are proud to say that the tens of thousands of Blue Water Navy veterans can rest easy tonight knowing that the benefits that they earned while serving off the coasts of Vietnam will be guaranteed,” said Roe and Takano in a joint statement. “The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 is finally law and is the culmination of a decades-long bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill to properly recognize these veterans’ claims and grant them the justice they have waited for.”

In retirement benefits news, officials at the Thrift Savings Plan announced Monday that the long-planned addition of lifecycle funds to more closely track with employees’ expected retirement dates will arrive in the second half of the 2020 calendar year. The L Funds shift investments to more stable portfolios as participants get closer to retirement,.

TSP Chief Investment Officer Sean McCaffrey said that the agency plans to offer L Funds in five-year increments, rather than the current 10 year increments, beginning in the third quarter of 2020, when the agency will “retire” the L 2020 Fund into the L Income Fund, which is designed for participants who have already begun making withdrawals.

After the changeover, the TSP will offer 10 L funds. In addition to the L Income Fund, participants will be able to enroll in the L 2025, L 2030, L 2035, L 2040, L 2045, L 2050, L 2055, L 2060 and L 2065 funds.