Lawmakers have introduced a number of bills that would help federal retirees.
While many federal employees fear the erosion of their benefits, sometimes change is a good thing. In recent years, new laws and regulations have allowed federal workers to receive credit for unused sick leave and apply prior part-time service when calculating their retirement eligibility, among other things. While those changes are welcome, there’s more work to be done to strengthen federal benefits. Fortunately, some lawmakers are working to do just that.
One concern often raised with respect to employees serving under temporary appointments is that they are excluded from federal employee retirement programs. Under both the Civil Service Retirement System and the Federal Employees Retirement System, an individual must work for at least five years to qualify for a retirement benefit. Most temporary employees never fulfill this five-year requirement. Under CSRS, such employment may be available for credit later if the individual has subsequent service covered by the retirement system. In those cases, employees may make a civilian service credit deposit to receive credit for prior service not covered by retirement deductions. When FERS was established, there was no provision for obtaining credit for non-covered service performed after 1988.
That could change. On May 2, Reps. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and Tom Cole, R-Okla., introduced the Federal Retirement Fairness Act (H.R. 2478). If signed into law, the bill would allow federal employees covered under FERS to make a deposit for post-1988 civilian service that was previously not available for credit. Similar bills were previously introduced in Congress, but unlike those bills, H.R. 2478 would also explicitly cover temporary Postal Service employees. Although the bill is supported by the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, the National Association of Letter Carriers, and the Federal Managers Association, among others, it is important for members of Congress to hear from individual employees whose lives would be impacted by this change.
There are additional bills pending in Congress that, if passed, would improve the benefits of federal employment, including:
- The Social Security Fairness Act of 2019 (H.R. 141/S. 521), introduced in the House by Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., and in the Senate by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, would repeal the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision.
- The Equal COLA Act (H.R. 1254), sponsored by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., would revise cost-of-living adjustments for federal retirees. In 2019, CSRS retirees and Social Security beneficiaries received a 2.8% cost-of-living adjustment, but FERS retirees only received a 2% COLA. Current law holds the FERS COLA at 2% if the full COLA falls between 2% and 3%, and reduces FERS COLAs by one percentage point if the full COLA exceeds 3%. This policy, enacted in the 1980s with the creation of FERS, fails to fully protect the earned value of FERS annuities.
- The USPS Fairness Act (H.R. 2382), sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., would end the requirement that the Postal Service fully pre-fund the future health benefits of its retirees. In a statement, DeFazio noted that USPS is the only federal agency that is required to pre-fund decades’ worth of health benefits for future retirees. Since 2007, this unfair mandate is responsible for more than 90 percent of USPS’s financial losses and 100 percent of losses over the past six years.
One way to bring awareness to these bills is to write to your representatives in Congress and let them know what it would mean to you if these bills became law. Personal messages are more effective in influencing a legislator's perspective. NARFE’s Advocacy Department provides sample letters that make it easy to contact your representatives to let them know that you support legislation that would help you, as well as the greater federal workforce.