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Fighting for the Right to Your Benefits

Federal employees meet virtually with lawmakers to make their voices heard on compensation issues.

This week I had the opportunity to attend the legislative conference of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. This impressive three-day event was held entirely on a virtual platform and included lessons on grassroots lobbying to let your elected representatives in Congress know how changes in federal employee benefits would affect you. On the third day of the conference, attendees met virtually with lawmakers. 

NARFE staff provided talking points, checklists, and biographical information about the members of Congress, the committees they serve on and how they have voted on federal issues. Staffers also shared information about bills currently under consideration that could impact federal and employee pay and benefits.

As most federal employees know, their benefits are governed under federal laws and regulations. Many employees dread the prospect that Congress will reduce benefits by, for example, changing the way cost of living adjustments are calculated or reducing the government match on Thrift Savings Plan contributions. And there have been changes to benefits over the years—most of them positive, but some negative, such as when Congress increased retirement contributions for new employees in 2013. 

Some of the pieces of legislation that NARFE members discussed with their elected representatives at the conference included:

  • The Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 82 and S. 1302), which would fully repeal both the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset. The WEP reduces the Social Security benefits of local, state and federal retirees who worked in Social Security-covered employment and who also receive a government annuity from their non-Social Security-covered government employment. The GPO prevents government retirees (mainly Civil Service Retirement System retirees who did not pay Social Security taxes during their federal career) who receive a federal annuity from collecting full Social Security benefits otherwise owed to them based on jobs their spouses held in the private sector. Under the Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act (H.R. 2337), WEP-affected retirees who will turn 62 before 2023 would receive a rebate of $150 per month.
  • The Postal Service Reform Act (H.R. 3076 and S. 1720), which would provide a separate health plan for postal employees and retirees parallel to the current Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. All postal employees and retirees would be moved to the new Postal Service Health Benefits Program except Medicare-eligible postal retirees who do not enroll in Medicare during their special enrollment period. They would remain in FEHBP. Retirees without Medicare tend to cost more to insure, as older individuals use more health care than their younger counterparts, on average. As such, this exception could increase the average premiums in FEHBP plans.
  • The Equal COLA Act (H.R. 304), which would bring annual cost of living adjustments for Federal Employees Retirement System retirees in line with the COLAs provided to CSRS retirees and Social Security beneficiaries. Current law holds the FERS COLA at 2% if the increase in the relevant consumer price index falls between 2% and 3%, and it reduces FERS COLAs by 1 percentage point if the increase in the CPI exceeds 3%.

Of course, just because a bill has been introduced doesn’t mean it will be enacted into law. Only 5% to 6% of bills make it to the House or Senate floor. Out of 14,764 bills introduced in the 116th Congress (from 2019 to 2021), only 344 were actually enacted. That’s why many measures improving federal employee benefits end up being attached to “must-pass” bills such as the National Defense Authorization Act. And a big part of the reason that happens is because federal employees and retirees organize and fight for them.

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