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

Retirement Backlog Creeps Up, Justice Backtracks on Link Between OPM Hack and Fraud Case

The number of pending federal employee retirement claims ticked up slightly last month, as the Office of Personnel Management increased its processing to meet the higher demand.

According to statistics released last week, the retirement backlog increased by less than 200 claims in June to 18,198, up from 18,024. But the number of new claims received jumped from 7,625 in May to 9,397 last month.

That total marks a significant increase over the same period in 2017, when OPM received only 6,141 new retirement requests. Last month, the agency processed 9,223 claims, up from 7,090 in May.

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Although OPM mostly kept pace with demand, the influx of new claims has increased the agency’s monthly average processing time from 58 days in May to 65 last month.

On Monday, the Justice Department confirmed that it spoke too soon when a press release announcing a guilty plea in an identity fraud case suggested the defendants had used data from the 2015 OPM hack.

In a letter to Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who inquired about the basis for the connection...

Paid Parental Leave, Human Capital Reviews and More

Legislation introduced in Congress last week would provide paid leave for federal civilian employees who have or adopt a child for the first time.

The Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act (H.R. 6275), introduced by Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., would provide federal workers 12 weeks of paid leave following the birth, adoption or fostering of a child. Currently, feds may take up to 12 weeks of parental leave, but it is unpaid.

In a statement, Comstock said the measure would bring federal agencies more in line with benefits offered in the private sector.

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“Today most large employers provide at least 12 weeks paid [leave] and this is a competitiveness issue as well as a retention issue for the federal workplace to attract and maintain the top talent in the workplace,” she said. “Paid parental leave has been proven to help women remain in the workforce, lower infant mortality rates, improve infant health, and reduce depression and other postpartum mental health issues in women.”

National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association President Richard Thissen applauded the bill’s introduction in a statement.

“Parents should not...

Expanded Access to Dental Insurance, Rising Participation in Blended Retirement and More

The Office of Personnel Management announced last week that military retirees and family members will soon gain expanded access to government-administered dental and vision insurance.

Until this year, most federal civilian retirees, their family members, retired reservists and military survivors have been eligible to enroll in the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program. The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act granted additional eligibility to military retirees and their families and to dependents of active duty service members.

The TRICARE Retiree Dental Plan, which provides coverage to most of the those newly eligible for FEDVIP, will phase out at the end of 2018. Current enrollees will have the opportunity to choose a FEDVIP plan during OPM’s insurance open season, which will run from Nov. 12 through Dec. 10.

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In a press release, OPM stressed that there is no automatic enrollment in FEDVIP for people who were covered by the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program before the transition. The agency has launched a website to provide information for the approximately 5.4 million newly eligible feds and their families and help ease the transition process.

Officials at...

A Possible Pay Raise, A Panel Pushes Benefits Cuts, and More

A House panel on Tuesday released its blueprint for fiscal 2019 spending, which echoes the Trump administration’s proposals targeting federal employee retirement programs.

Republicans on the House Budget Committee said its “Budget for a Brighter American Future” would balance the budget within nine years through a mixture of cuts to mandatory spending and other federal programs. The plan also calls for a number of cuts to federal retirement programs, as outlined by the White House’s fiscal 2019 budget proposal, under the headline “Reform Civil Service Pensions.”

“This budget . . . calls for federal employees, including members of Congress and congressional staff, to make greater contributions to their own defined benefit retirement plans,” the committee wrote. “It would also end the special retirement supplement, which pays federal employees the equivalent of their Social Security benefits at an earlier age.”

The package also calls for “parity” between employees in the federal and private sector by “transitioning to defined contribution plans.” These proposals mirror Trump administration plans, outlined by Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff Pon in a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan last month, to eliminate Federal Employees Retirement System supplements for federal workers who retire before Social Security kicks in at...

Debt-Free College for Future Feds, Expanding Military Parental Leave and More

A Democratic senator introduced a bill last month that would allow students to graduate from college debt-free, provided they enter public service.

The Strengthening American Communities Act (S. 2984), introduced in May by Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland but announced last week, would establish a National Public Service Education Grant program, which would pay a significant portion of students’ tuition, provided that they agree to work for at least three years in public service. The program could remove many students’ reliance on student loans to pay for post-secondary education, and allow graduates to enter the workforce debt free.

And those already working in positions eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which offers to erase debt after a decade of work in public service, would see relief after only three years.

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“The partnerships, created under the act among the federal government, states [and institutions of higher education], ensure students have a pathway to complete their degree without the burden of taking on exorbitant student loan costs,” Cardin said in a statement. “[No] individual willing to serve their community in a public service career should...