“On September 8, representatives and senators returned to Capitol Hill from the five-week summer recess. With the fiscal year ending September 30, and without the enactment of any of the 12 regular appropriations bills, congressional leaders are intent on passing an eight-week stopgap funding bill and recessing again to allow members to return home to campaign. A post-election or ‘lame-duck’ session will likely begin November 12. I urge NARFE members to use this recess wisely. By using the Protect America’s Heartbeat Toolkit, the pre-election recess provides another opportunity for NARFE leaders and grass-roots activists to organize candidate forums and meetings.”
On September 9, NARFE, along with coalition partners – the Senior Executives Association (SEA) and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) – issued a press release on the much-delayed issuance of final regulations implementing a 2011 law (P.L. 112-73) allowing federal agencies to provide flags to the next of kin of civilian employees killed in the line of duty. More than 20 federal employees have been killed in the line of duty since the law was enacted. NARFE’s press release earned media coverage, as the Association expressed gratefulness that this option is now available, and concern that the burden of having to initiate the request for the flag would be too great on grieving families. To view the Office of Personnel Management’s guidance to agencies, click here.
Delegates and guests participating in NARFE’s 33rd Biennial National Convention in Orlando, FL, including representatives from all 54 federations, eagerly received Legislative Director Jessica Klement’s Legislative Update (August 27). On August 28, delegates took up to three bites of the advocacy apple by: 1) attending a highly successful NARFE-PAC breakfast with an engaging keynote speaker; 2) debating the Legislative Program for the 114th Congress (2015-2016); and 3) participating in an interactive “Lunch and Learn” on Grass-Roots Advocacy. Legislative Committee Chair Pierce Johnson took the delegates through the Legislative Program and won its adoption. The program, as dictated by a delegate-approved resolution, reiterates NARFE’s support for employees of the U.S. Postal Service. It also includes a provision expressing the Association’s belief that inherently governmental functions be carried out by federal and postal employees, not contractors. Convention attendees generously supported NARFE-PAC, thanks to time dedicated to NARFE-PAC on the agenda, as well as by pithy pleas from Sergeant-at-Arms Chair Don Wiese. One-time contributions totaled $9,500, and 57 new sustaining pledges will annualize to an additional $7,800. Thanks to everyone who contributed to NARFE-PAC!
Federal employees who participate in the Federal Flexible Spending Account Program (FSAFEDS) will be able to roll over up to $500 from 2015 to 2016 in unspent funds from their limited expense and health care flexible spending accounts (FSA). This change is not effective until the 2015 Benefit Period. This means there is no change to the 2014 Benefit Period. You still will have access to the grace period for both your 2014 health and dependent care accounts, allowing you to continue incurring eligible expenses through March 15, 2015.
Federal employees should seek more information about the recent decision by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM,) including: 1) lowering the minimum election to $100; and 2) elimination of certain “grace periods” in the future.
On August 7, the Office of Personnel Management issued final regulations implementing phased retirement in the federal government. Phased retirement, a NARFE priority for years, was enacted into law more than two years ago as a cost-saving, management tool to capture crucial employee expertise that otherwise would be lost. Employees will be eligible for phased retirement starting November 6. However, how agencies will implement this new option remains to be seen.
“As Congress leaves Washington for a five-week summer recess, I encourage you to use this time to interact with your members of Congress in your community. Whether it is a formal meeting or a brief conversation at a local event, talking with your elected officials helps protect your earned benefits and strengthen NARFE’s message. Our Legislative Department staff has developed resources to make grassroots advocacy easier, and I encourage you to use them this August.”
Take Advantage of NARFE Grass-Roots Advocacy Month
Most members of Congress will return to their home districts and states during the congressional summer recess, August 1 to September 8. NARFE members should take advantage of this opportunity by participating in NARFE Grass-Roots Advocacy Month. Find out how to be an advocate using the Choose Your Own Advocacy Adventure guide, which is featured in the August issue of narfe magazine (page 8-9), and the Protect America's Heartbeat Toolkit. Following your advocacy activity, let the NARFE Legislative Department know about your efforts by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 703-838-7760, ext. 201.
House Bill Introduced to Repeal Recent Increases in Retirement Contributions for Federal Employees
Rep. Donna Edwards, D-MD, introduced the NARFE-supported Federal Employee Pension Fairness Act of 2014, which would repeal the increases in retirement contributions new federal employees were forced to pay in 2013 and 2014.
Beginning in 2013, new federal employees are paying more toward their retirement than their previously hired colleagues without any increase in benefits. Those hired in 2013 pay 2.3 percent more; and those hired beginning in 2014 pay 3.6 percent more than those hired before 2013. Over 10 years, these increases in retirement contributions amount to a $21 billion loss in take-home pay for these new federal employees. This bill would repeal the increases and bring those contributions down to the same level as all federal employees hired prior to 2013.
Following the bill’s introduction, NARFE issued a press release in support of the bill.
Social Security Trustees Report Released
The annual Social Security Trustees Report was released earlier this week, finding little change overall in the finances of the Social Security Trust Fund. The trustees predicted the Social Security Trust Fund will remain solvent until 2034, while the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund requires rebalancing before 2016. The full report can be found on the Social Security website. The House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee held a hearing following the release of the report and debated the financial status of Social Security programs.
Hotline to Take Hiatus During the Summer Recess
As Congress breaks for the five-week summer recess, the Hotline also will take a hiatus. Between now and September 5, the Hotline will be published on an as-needed basis.
“Uncertainty creates opportunity. While it is clear the final week of July will be the last week before the five-week congressional summer recess, most everything else on Capitol Hill is uncertain. I urge each NARFE member to harness this opportunity by seeking out incumbent lawmakers and their challengers during the recess, August 1 through Labor Day. Use your August narfe magazine, page 33, to show incumbents that the federal family votes in every state and district. Share NARFE issue priorities with all candidates.”
Choose Your Own Advocacy Adventure
This summer, senators and representatives will spend more time in their home states and districts, meeting with constituents and campaigning for office. NARFE members must not let this opportunity to interact with their legislators and candidates pass them by. August is “NARFE Grass-Roots Advocacy Month.” If you’re unsure where or how to start, use the new “Choose Your Own Advocacy Adventure” flowchart on NARFE’s homepage. Complete a new chart for each representative, senator and candidate for those offices. The NARFE Legislative Department staff is willing and eager to assist, so don’t hesitate to contact us at email@example.com.
What Lies Ahead
After the recess, Congress will have about three weeks in September to fund the government for at least part of fiscal year 2015, which begins October 1. While the House has passed several appropriations bills, all 12 bills are far from enactment. If that were not enough, Congress is also grappling with these issues: the looming insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund, expired tax provisions, an influx of unaccompanied minors along the border, and a seemingly endless debate over the future of the VA. The lame-duck period between the November elections and the start of the new Congress in January could prove to be a busy one.
Congressional Election Handicapping and Resources
Organizations in Washington with deep pockets spend lavishly for information that is very similar to what others make available for free. The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics offers an electronic newsletter, “Crystal Ball,” that provides excellent election forecasting. To become a subscriber, click here. Roll Call, the longest running of the three Capitol Hill tabloids, has just posted updated campaign finance summaries for competitive and open House seats and the 36 Senate seats on 2014 ballots. OpenSecrets gathers Federal Election Commission campaign finance data and makes it available for free. For instance, OpenSecrets allows you to find how much outside spending, and by whom, is occurring in House and Senate races.
Consumer Prices Rise in June
On July 22, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov/cpi or 202-691-6994) reported that the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) rose to 234.702 in June, an increase of 0.21 percent from May. With three months remaining in the measurement year, the June index is 1.9 percent higher than the 2013 third-quarter average index (230.327). For Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) beneficiaries, the first six months of the calendar year have seen a 2.4 percent increase from the December 2013 index (229.174). COLAs for FECA beneficiaries are determined by each calendar year’s percentage change in the CPI-W. July consumer price indices will be released on Tuesday, August 19. The final puzzle piece, September data, is to be released on October 22. More information is available to NARFE members on our website.