By ANURAK PONGPATIMET

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A Close Call for Paid Parental Leave, a Chance to Share Your Views on Benefits and More

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news. 

New federal parents looking for paid time off to care for their infants are almost in luck. 

The Senate last week came very close to following in the House’s footsteps and embracing paid parental leave for federal employees. The chamber rejected by just one vote (47-48) language by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, instructing senators to add paid parental leave for feds to the final fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. 

The House has already included in its version of the bill 12 weeks of paid family leave related to the birth, adoption or fostering of a child, or to help care for a child, parent or spouse with a serious health condition. The Senate version doesn’t have that provision, and the measure is now in conference committee negotiations to iron out differences. 

Even though Schatz’s attempt to secure paid leave failed, the conference committee could still decide to include the benefit in the Defense policy bill, and the American Federation of Government Employees urged negotiators to do so. 

“Federal employees currently receive no paid time off for the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child, or to address other family medical emergencies,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox, in a statement. “Providing paid family leave to federal employees is a logical first step that will help build support for extending this benefit to all American workers and their families, and we encourage the Senate to make Federal Employee Paid Family Leave a priority as they finalize the [fiscal] 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.”

House lawmakers have for years introduced standalone legislation to grant feds paid parental leave, but the measures have stalled in the Senate or earlier. Attempting to attach the language to the broader Defense Authorization bill gives it perhaps the best chance yet of becoming law. 

Meanwhile, federal civilians on Wednesday got their first look at how their health insurance offerings and premium payments will change next year. Federal employees on average will pay 5.6% more toward their Federal Employees Health Benefits Program premiums in 2020, the Office of Personnel Management announced.

There will also be two new plans for employees nationwide, as well as 16 new options in local areas, as a result of its offering an indemnity benefit plan for the first time in 30 years. Those “fee-for-service” plans allow enrollees to go to virtually any health care provider and receive reimbursement for a set percentage of their costs. After a competitive bidding process, GEHA won the opportunity to provide the indemnity plans.  

Employees will have a chance to enroll in FEHBP or change their insurance elections during open season, which will run from Nov. 11 through Dec. 9. For more information on premium rates and new offerings next year, click here

Federal civilians are not the only ones with an open season approaching. Open season for military families to enroll in a new Tricare plan or make changes to their coverage will begin on Nov. 11 and run through Dec. 9. Click here for more information on your options. As with the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, changes to your elections must take place within open season unless you experience a “qualifying event,” such as marriage or the birth of a child. If you take no action, you will remain enrolled in your current plan. 

Not satisfied with your benefits? You may soon have a chance to let the Office of Personnel Management know how you feel. OPM on Monday informed agency heads that this fall it will distribute a benefits survey via email to a random sample of about 50,000 federal employees. 

“The purpose of the [Federal Employee Benefits Survey]  is to measure the importance, adequacy and value of employee benefits to assess if employees believe that the available benefits meet their needs,” wrote recently confirmed OPM Director Dale Cabaniss, in the memo.  “The FEBS will also help to evaluate whether or not federal employees understand the flexibilities and benefits available to them.”

The last such survey was given in 2017, according to OPM. It has also been conducted in 2015, 2013, 2011, 2006 and 2004. 

OPM also is busy trying to help federal employees who are victims of Hurricane Dorian, which devastated parts of the Bahamas in early September and also caused severe flooding in areas of North Carolina and the Southeast coast. Cabaniss released a memo late last week with guidance on emergency leave transfers to help affected feds. The program allows federal employees to donate  leave to their colleagues recovering from the storm who may need additional time off from work. 

The memo leaves it up to agencies to develop their own leave transfer programs based on their needs, with OPM playing a coordinating role. “Employees who wish to donate annual leave must contact their own agencies, not OPM, to determine if there are any affected employees in their agency and how to donate annual leave to them,” the memo stated. “Agencies should contact OPM for assistance in receiving additional donated annual leave from other agencies only if they do not receive sufficient amounts of donated annual leave to meet the needs of emergency leave recipients within the agency.”