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

Pay Raise in Limbo, Charitable Giving Campaign Launches, and More

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Congress is on the cusp of averting a government shutdown this week, although a bill that could provide a pay raise for civilian federal employees will have to wait until after the Sept. 30 deadline.

The House on Wednesday approved a spending package for the departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (H.R. 6157), which also includes a continuing resolution to keep the agencies that still lack appropriations open until Dec. 9.

Included in the continuing resolution are the agencies covered by a minibus spending package for the Interior, Environment, financial services and general government, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development. That bill would be the vehicle for a federal employee pay raise, and congressional negotiators seemed willing to include a 1.9 percent increase for civilian federal workers. But they have indicated a number of other outstanding issues will push back passage of that bill until after the deadline.

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Another indicator that the pay raise is likely to be included in the final appropriations package is that the Defense minibus includes language to budget for a 1.9 percent increase in pay.

Meanwhile, federal employees are being asked to consider contributing either their time or part of their paychecks to charitable organizations of their choice. Last week, officials with the Combined Federal Campaign officially launched the annual giving drive for federal workers, highlighting the introduction of volunteering as a form of donation with the slogan “Show You Care.” The campaign runs through Jan. 11, 2019, and the fundraising goal is $38 million.

“The Show You Care messaging is an exciting new addition to the campaign and emphasizes the importance of volunteering to federal employees and retirees,” said Vince Macone, chairman of the local federal coordinating committee for the campaign in the Washington, D.C., region.

In addition to traditional monetary donations, which can be automatically taken from federal employees’ paychecks over the course of a year, workers can pledge off-hours volunteer time, which is then given a monetary value to go toward the campaign’s goal.

Roughly 8,000 charities are participating in this year’s campaign. For more information, visit the drive’s website.

On Wednesday, the Office of Personnel Management announced the details of the annual open season for electing coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which runs from Nov. 12 until Dec. 10. Officials said that next year, federal employees and retirees enrolled in the program will pay on average 1.5 percent more than in 2018, the smallest increase since 1995.

The government share of premiums will increase by 1.2 percent next year, and the overall premium hike will be 1.3 percent, the smallest overall increase since 1996. Individual employees could see their health care costs rise or fall by a different factor, depending on their region and plan. OPM officials chalked up the slight increase in cost to a number of factors, including a moratorium on an Affordable Care Act fee, and efforts to contain the cost of prescription drugs and chronic conditions.

“There are a number of dynamics at play here,” OPM Director for Health Care and Insurance Alan Spielman said. “Certainly, OPM and all of the carriers have been focused on quality improvement and achieving more affordable programs here . . . and there are a number of trends along those lines. They also include things like renegotiating provider contracts, and introducing programs like pharmacy management and chronic care management.”

Erich Wagner is a staff correspondent covering pay, benefits and other federal workforce issues. He joined Government Executive in the spring of 2017 after extensive experience writing about state and local issues in Maryland and Virginia, most recently as editor-in-chief of the Alexandria Times. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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