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

A Pay Raise Update, TSP Security, and More

The federal government’s largest payroll processor said Tuesday that most federal employees will see the retroactive pay raise authorized earlier this year in their paychecks beginning next week.

The National Finance Center, which is part of the Agriculture Department and handles payroll for dozens of federal agencies, made an announcement via email that it had implemented the average 1.9 percent pay increase for federal civilian employees as of the pay period that began April 7.

That means that for most federal workers, they will see both the pay raise and a lump sum adjusting the salary they received in previous paychecks this year, which were until now subject to a pay freeze at 2018 levels.

But roadblocks remain for some employees. The finance center said that for workers who received within-grade increases or promotions, agency human resources officials must take additional steps to implement the retroactive pay raise fully.

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The Thrift Savings Plan this week has begun encouraging participants to make their accounts more secure. In a bulletin to users Monday, TSP officials suggested that participants enable two-factor authentication to access their account...

A TSA Employee Rights Bill, Another Shutdown Mitigation Bill and More

A Senate Democrat last month introduced legislation that would grant employees of the Transportation Security Administration expanded collective bargaining rights and access to the General Schedule wage system.

The bill (S. 944) by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, would grant employees at TSA full Title 5 civil service protections, including access to the Merit Systems Protection Board, official time and salaries on the GS pay scale. Currently, TSA workers are on a graded “pay band” system, and union employees must wait until they are off duty, or take leave, to work on representational matters.

The legislation mirrors a similar bill under consideration in the House. The Rights for Transportation Security Officers Act (H.R. 1140) was introduced by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., but has not yet been voted on in that committee.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., introduced legislation (H.R. 2133) Monday that would protect a number of agencies that are technically part of the federal government but serve local purposes from shutting down in the event of a lapse in appropriations.

During the recent 35-day partial government shutdown, a number of federal agencies serving only Washington, D.C., were...

Lawmakers Seek to Protect Health Benefits During Future Shutdowns

Bipartisan legislation introduced Tuesday would ensure federal employees affected by future government shutdowns would not be at risk of losing any of their health insurance benefits.

The Ensuring FEDVIP and FLTCIP Coverage During Shutdowns Act (H.R. 2004 and S. 973), would protect enrollees in federal employee dental, vision and long-term care insurance programs who are furloughed or forced to work without pay during a shutdown from having their plans cancelled for nonpayment.

Currently if a lapse in appropriations lasts more than two consecutive pay periods, federal workers who have gone without pay are billed for their premiums as part of the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program, and risk their coverage lapsing. The recent 35-day partial government shutdown fell into this category.  

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Standard medical coverage provided through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program does not come under threat during a shutdown—premium payments missed during the shutdown are automatically deducted from the first post-lapse paycheck. But during the shutdown, workers at unfunded agencies who had a major life event found themselves unable to make changes to their plans, like adding a newborn baby...

State Approves Law to Protect Feds in Future Shutdowns, and OPM Clarifies Leave Donations

As Congress continues to consider an array of bills aimed at preventing future government shutdowns or providing aid to workers impacted by lapses in appropriations, Maryland officials have stepped into the breach with their own protections for federal workers.

On Tuesday, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan signed the Federal Shutdown Paycheck Protection Act, which was passed out of the Maryland General Assembly earlier this month. According to Maryland Matters, the law sets up a new Federal Government Shutdown Employee Assistance Loan Fund, where the state would issue temporary financial assistance in the form of no-interest loans to federal employees who are forced to work without pay during a lapse in appropriations.

Additionally, a provision of the law paves the way for excepted federal workers to apply for unemployment benefits, provided that the Labor Department changes its guidance that currently bars such employees from the program. Furloughed employees already may apply for unemployment benefits in Maryland during the shutdown, but they must pay those benefits back if and when they receive retroactive pay.

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The law applies to all federal employees whose worksite is in Maryland.

Meanwhile, the...

Another Effort to Fix Tax Issues for Relocating Feds, the Pay Raise Is Almost Ready, and More

A bipartisan group of senators has renewed its push to provide a legislative fix for an unintended consequence of the 2017 tax law overhaul that caused thousands of federal workers to incur large tax bills when they moved for work.

Last year, federal employees relocating for their agency found that a deduction for government payments associated with moving costs for household goods had been stripped from the tax code. As a result, many saw one-time deductions from their paychecks of up to $7,000.

The General Services Administration last May came up with a temporary fix, authorizing agencies to pay relocation income tax allowances and withholding tax allowances to cover the increased tax liability. But that policy did not cover around 5 percent of federal employees asked to move for work.

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Last week, senators from both parties reintroduced legislation to ensure that all federal employees who qualify to have their moving costs reimbursed by the government are also repaid for any taxes owed on those payments.

The Relocation Expense Parity Act, introduced by Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va.; Tim Kaine, D-Va.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Mazie Hirono...