“As predicted in the last Hotline, Congress now has passed a stopgap funding measure or continuing resolution that provides funding to keep the federal government operating through early December. Congress is now in recess until November 12. Because campaigns listen closely to voters, I urge NARFE members to be active electors in the run-up to the midterm elections. If we use the resources in the Protect America’s Heartbeat Toolkit, the election recess provides another opportunity for NARFE leaders and grass-roots activists to impact politics and policy for years to come.”
Memories of last year’s 16-day government shutdown, combined with their eagerness to return home to campaign for re-election, convinced 319 representatives and 78 senators to vote for passage of a short-term funding bill that provides funding for all government operations through December 11. With President Obama’s promised signature, Congress has recessed so that 388 representatives and 28 senators can resume re-election campaigns. However, this stopgap measure, providing eight weeks of funding, is far from ideal. Its enactment kicks the necessary funding decisions down the road to a post-election or “lame duck” session, set to begin November 12.
On September 16, the Senate passed, by unanimous consent, the Smart Savings Act, S. 2117, introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA. The legislation would change the automatic enrollment for new federal employees in the Thrift Savings Plan from the G fund to one of the Lifecycle funds. The bill now moves on to conference, as the House passed similar, bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA, on July 14.
On September 17, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov/cpi or 202-691-6994) reported that Augusts' Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) is 234.030, a one-month decrease of 0.21 percent. With just one month remaining in the measurement year, the July-August average CPI-W (234.278) is 1.7 percent higher than the 2013 third-quarter average base index (230.327). Of interest to Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) beneficiaries, the August 2014 CPI-W figure is 2.12 percent higher than the December 2013 CPI-W figure (229.174). The final data point, September consumer price indices, will be released October 22 at 8:30 am EDT. Consumer prices will be the lead item in news reports at that time because the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for all three federally administered retirement programs – Social Security, military retirement and federal civilian annuities -- are based on the same methodology and timetable. For NARFE’s chart and details, visit: http://www.narfe.org/member/articles.cfm?ID=2588.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.