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The Same Old Benefits Proposals, a Disappointing Pay Raise and More Info on Military Childcare

Andrew Harnik/AP

Federal employees looking for bold, new pay and benefits proposals in President Obama’s fiscal 2017 budget likely came away disappointed. The document unveiled Tuesday sang the praises of the federal workforce, but stuck mainly with benefits requests from past budgets, such as six weeks of paid parental leave. Even the Obama administration appeared disappointed with one of its proposals: a 1.6 percent 2017 pay raise.

That level of raise is not nearly enough to keep pace with the private sector, officials wrote in budget documents. Unless the civilian pay raise is at least 2.1 percent in 2017, the administration noted, the salary bump would be below the Employment Cost Index for eight consecutive years. That would result in a decrease in federal employee pay of about 9 percent compared to the private sector, the “largest relative pay cut over an eight year period since the passage of [the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act] by a significant margin,” the budget stated.

New federal employees’ earnings have been hit the hardest, the budget highlighted, as their pay freezes were combined with higher contributions to their pensions. The White House said their compensation has dropped off more than 10 percentage points relative to the private sector between 2009 and 2015.

“Using the current pay assumptions for 2017 and assuming ECI-level pay increases in FY2018 and later, these reductions in benefits will save the government an additional $260 billion over the next decade,” the budget stated. In a statistic not included in previous budgets, the administration noted that would amount to a sacrifice of more than $100,000 per full-time equivalent employee.

Federal employee unions certainly share in the administration’s disappointment, and aren’t going to stand by quietly and let Obama’s 1.6 percent raise take effect. American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox called for a 5.3 percent raise during the union’s annual legislative conference earlier this week. “I’m a happy, jolly man,” Cox said, as to why he is hoping for the largest civilian pay raise in more than three decades. “We may not get 5.3 [percent], I’ll be perfectly honest,” he said, “but we’ll be fighting like hell for more than 1.6 [percent].” 

One of the rare new benefits proposals in Obama’s budget was a simplification of TRICARE for retired military service members. The simplified version of the military’s main health care program outlined in the budget would give retirees two choices: Enrollees could choose a lower-cost plan called TRICARE Select, similar to an HMO, and centered on military treatment facilities, or TRICARE Choice, a more expensive plan that would operate like a PPO. Retired enrollees in both plans would pay participation fees, which is not the case now for beneficiaries with TRICARE Standard coverage, or those military retirees age 65 or older who have TRICARE-for-Life. Those who choose not to pay an annual participation fee would forfeit their TRICARE coverage for that year under the White House proposal. The changes would not affect active-duty service members.

In other military benefits news, the House this week passed pro forma legislation (H.R. 677) that provides cost-of-living adjustments for disabled veterans. And troops’ families looking for childcare will have more comprehensive information about their options for military-operated or military-subsidized care, the Military Times reports. The number of installations that have provided information on is expected to grow to 120 by the end of March. New additions include 20 Air Force bases and 12 Army installations, according to the report. The website helps families find facilities and get on waiting lists.  

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