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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Lawmakers Introduce Slew of Bills to Boost Federal Retirement Benefits

House lawmakers, led by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., introduced several of bills last week that would improve the retirement benefits earned by federal workers during their time in public service.

One piece of legislation, the Equal COLA Act (H.R. 1254) would increase the annual cost of living adjustment provided to retirees in the Federal Employees Retirement System to match the COLA given to Civil Service Retirement System retirees.

Under the current system, cost of living adjustments for federal employee retirement programs operate on two tiers. While the CSRS adjustment is based on the annual inflation of the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, FERS adds an additional formula onto its COLA calculation, frequently reducing the amount that annuitants receive.

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If a cost of living adjustment for CSRS recipients is less than 2 percent, FERS retirees would receive the full amount. But if the COLA is between 2 and 3 percent, FERS annuitants would only receive 2 percent, and if the COLA is more than 3 percent, retirees in FERS would receive that COLA minus 1 percentage point.

In 2019, CSRS...

Lawmakers Investigate Back Pay Issues, New Post-Shutdown Clarification on Promotions, and More

House Democrats announced Wednesday that they would investigate reports of incomplete back pay to federal employees impacted by the 35-day partial government shutdown and problems related to a variety of deductions typically taken from employee paychecks.

Last week, federal workers and agencies responsible for payroll processing confirmed that thousands of Homeland Security Department employees had not yet received their first paycheck of the year, while workers at other agencies that were shuttered during the lapse in appropriations were still owed some of their back pay.

Additionally, the National Finance Center and Interior Business Center, two agencies that process payroll for hundreds of federal entities, had not taken out several normal payroll deductions, such as court-ordered child support, alimony payments, Thrift Savings Plan loan repayments and union dues.

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In a letter to Acting Office of Personnel Management Director Margaret Weichert and Office of Management and Budget Director and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., commended the effort to encourage agencies to “act promptly” to...

TSP Proposes New Shutdown Loan Rules, OPM Considers Health Care Portal, and More

Officials with the agency that administers the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings program published an interim rule Tuesday that would ensure federal employees impacted by a government shutdown can take out loans on their Thrift Savings Plan accounts regardless of how long the lapse in appropriations is expected to last.

Posted in the Federal Register by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which governs the TSP, the rule narrowly applies to federal workers who are either furloughed or forced to work without pay during a lapse in appropriations. Before this week, any employee in a “non-pay status” was eligible to take out a loan, so long as that status was expected to last less than 30 days.

As a result, there was uncertainty regarding whether employees at unfunded agencies could apply for TSP loans during the 35-day partial government shutdown, especially as it stretched into the third and fourth week. Earlier this month, TSP officials reported that they saw a 5 percent increase in the issuance of TSP loans during the lapse in appropriations, compared to a 26 percent increase in withdrawals, a more onerous process that forces participants to incur a 10 percent tax penalty and...

2.6 Percent Pay Raise Bill Passes House, Shutdown-Related TSP Withdrawals Exceed $140M, and More

The House voted 259-161 Wednesday to approve a bill that would provide pay parity between the federal civilian and military workforces by authorizing a 2.6 percent pay raise for 2019, retroactive to Jan. 1. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate on Tuesday.

Federal employee groups quickly applauded the measure’s passage.

“This increase is not just appropriate but it is overdue,” said Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union. “Today, the House soundly rejected the president’s pay freeze, provided parity with the military and helped federal employees keep up with the rising costs of health care, housing and other daily living expenses.”

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“This modest 2.6 percent pay raise is in line with the pay raise provided to uniformed service members this year and is not to be mistaken for amends from the recent shutdown,” said Ken Thomas, national president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. “Desperately needed after 35 dysfunctional days and a third shutdown in a year, it ensures that federal employee pay rates remain competitive with the private sector so that our...

Lawmakers Look to Protect Vision, Dental Plans for Furloughed Feds, and More

A group of four senators asked the Office of Personnel Management on Wednesday to ease policies governing federal workers’ vision and dental insurance during a government shutdown, just days before they face the prospect of their coverage lapsing.

OPM guidance on employees’ pay and benefits during a shutdown states that while medical insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program continues during a lapse in appropriations and premiums will be deducted from feds’ first post-shutdown paycheck, the same is not true for enrollees in the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program. Although FEDVIP coverage initially extends into a government shutdown, if an employee is furloughed for two consecutive pay periods, he or she will be billed via mail to maintain coverage.

With no end in sight for the partial government shutdown, employees of unfunded agencies are set to miss their second straight paycheck later this week.

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Senate Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia and Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland wrote a letter to OPM acting Director Margaret Weichert urging her to change this policy, citing the difficulty many federal...