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Lawmakers revive bill to let ex-temps make catch-up retirement contributions

Currently, Federal Employees Retirement System employees who began their careers as temporary or seasonal workers must work longer to receive their full retirement benefits.

Lawmakers from both parties last week revived legislation that would allow most federal employees who began their careers as temporary or seasonal workers to make catch-up contributions to their pensions so that they can retire on time.

The Federal Retirement Fairness Act (H.R. 5995), introduced by Reps. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., Gerry Connolly, D-Va., Don Bacon, R-Neb., and David Valadao, R-Calif., would allow employees enrolled in the Federal Employees Retirement System who began their careers in government as temporary workers to make catch-up contributions to their defined benefit pensions to cover for the time before they had permanent positions and were unable to contribute to their retirement accounts. The legislation was last introduced in 2021 but failed to garner support.

Decades ago, ex-temporary workers were able to make “buy back” contributions to ensure their pensions reflect their time as temps under the Civil Service Retirement System, but the practice was phased out in 1989, with the advent of FERS. As a result, current federal workers who began as temporary employees must choose between accepting a lower pension annuity or working additional years to receive their full retirement allowance.

In a statement announcing the bill’s reintroduction, the lawmakers said the terms for retroactive contributions toward former temps’ pensions will “mirror” those that existed under CSRS.

“Many federal employees begin their careers in temporary positions before transitioning to permanent status, Kilmer said. “We need to have their backs. The Federal Retirement Fairness Act will ensure that all federal workers, from those at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard [in Washington state] to postal workers and beyond, have the opportunity to retire on time, regardless of how they started their careers.”

“Many federal worker start as temporary employees and work for five to 10 years, unable to contribute to their retirement, before becoming permanent,” Bacon said. “Allowing them to make a lump sum payment towards their retirement when they become permanent allows them to have a firm footing for their future and provides peace of mind.”

The bill has the support of a wide array of unions and other federal employee organizations, including the American Federation of Government Employees, the American Postal Workers Union, the Federal Managers Association and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

“Seasonal and temporary federal employees who answer the call of duty deserve the same level of deference as the permanent employees they work with,” said National Federation of Federal Employes President Randy Erwin. “It is unconscionable to ignore temporary or seasonal labor upon becoming permanent employees. Given that many of these employees risk their lives and health working in dangerous jobs at agencies such as [the Defense Department] and federal land management agencies, to deny counting that time is akin to creating a second class of employee.”