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NARFE Headquarters, October 12, 2018

Message from NARFE President Richard G. Thissen:

“Federal retirees rightfully earned their annuities through hard work in service to the American people. If retirees are not provided sufficient cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), their earned retirement security will be eroded by inflation. Despite the announcement of a 2.8 percent COLA in 2019, the current COLA formula does not accurately account for the spending habits of seniors, and therefore retirees are not fully protected from rising consumer prices. This may be the largest COLA increase since 2012, but it still falls short of what seniors need to keep pace with rising costs.”

COLA Announced for 2019

Based on the latest consumer price data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2019 COLA for Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) annuities and Social Security benefits will be 2.8 percent. This is the largest COLA for CSRS retirees and Social Security beneficiaries since 2012. Meanwhile, retirees under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) will not receive the full amount and instead will only receive a 2 percent COLA to their annuities.

CSRS annuity and Social Security benefit COLAs are adjusted according to the change in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners (CPI-W) from year to year, based on the average of the third-quarter months of July, August and September. However, pursuant to federal law, when the CPI-W increases between 2 and 3 percent, FERS COLAs are unfairly and arbitrarily capped at 2 percent. NARFE opposes this policy and is urging Congress to ensure FERS retirees receive the full COLA necessary to protect the value of their earned annuities from rising inflation.

The COLA, as currently calculated, fails to accurately account for how seniors spend their money and the extent they are impacted by rising consumer prices. Using the CPI-W inaccurately bases seniors’ COLAs on the spending habits of urban wage earners and clerical workers under the age of 62. Instead, COLAs should be calculated based on the CPI-E. NARFE strives for the fair assessment of consumer prices in the determination of annual COLAs. To that end, we support the CPI-E Act of 2017, H.R. 1251, which would change the calculation of annual COLAs to more accurately reflect the actual spending habits of Americans over age 62. Click here to contact your legislators and ask them to cosponsor the CPI-E Act of 2017.

Pon Resigns as OPM Director

On October 5, Dr. Jeff Pon abruptly resigned from his Senate-confirmed post as Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The same day, the White House appointed Margaret Weichert to the position of Acting Director of OPM. In a statement, the White House claimed Weichert will take on the new OPM responsibilities in addition to her current duties as the Deputy Director for Management with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In this position, Weichert is involved in the administration’s efforts to reshape the civil service and transform the role of OPM.

Pon held the position of OPM Director for roughly seven months. During that time, he played a key role in advancing many of the Trump administration’s proposals related to the civil service, and was working to unveil a major civil service reform package this month. Pon also advocated for many of President Trump’s fiscal year 2019 (FY19) budget proposals that would reduce federal earned pay and benefits.

Pon came into the job with his own vision of a civil service modified for the needs of future generations. He prioritized the digitalization of employee and retiree records to streamline OPM services, the flexibility for future federal workers to smoothly come and go from federal service, the acceleration of federal hiring processes to ensure we are able to attract top talent, as well as the heightened public appreciation of federal employees for the indispensable services they provide.

Legislation Creating Process for Government Reorganization Advances

Following release of a plan to privatize the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and move federal benefits programs out of OPM, NARFE members should contact their legislators and voice their unease with the administration’s government reorganization plan. On September 26, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the Reforming Government Act of 2018, S. 3137, and unanimously advanced a modified version of the legislation to the full Senate chamber. S. 3137 would create a procedure for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to submit a formal government reorganization plan to Congress for consideration and a vote. The legislation would provide OMB two years to submit a formal reorganization plan to Congress that would accomplish cost savings or decrease the number of federal agencies.

During the markup, Democrats expressed apprehension that a 51-vote requirement to pass the reorganization proposals would pollute the process with partisanship and diminish any opportunity to accomplish meaningful reforms. To induce bipartisanship, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, put forward an amendment that would require a 60-vote margin to pass the formal reorganization proposals into law. After further deliberation, the committee agreed to a modified amendment introduced by Heitkamp and then reported the bill favorably to the full Senate. This amendment maintains the simple majority vote, but requires the formal reorganization plan to acquire a minimum of five cosponsors from each party to ensure bipartisanship and minority party buy-in. Companion legislation in the House has not been considered.

NARFE has grave concerns with certain aspects of the administration’s reorganization plan. Among these is a concern that transferring federal personnel policy from OPM to the Executive Office of the President risks exposing nonpartisan career civil servants to tumultuous politicization. This is especially troubling considering the administration’s recent proposed cuts to federal earned pay and benefits. Likewise, the administration of federal retirement and health benefits may receive less attention and resources with the transferring of OPM’s programmatic functions to an expanded General Services Administration (GSA). Additionally, the reorganization plan’s proposal to privatize USPS would severely undermine the agency’s prized universal service and jeopardize the jobs, pay, benefits and retirement security of dedicated postal employees. NARFE members should express their concerns with these changes to their legislators using NARFE’s legislative action center.

Grassroots Corner

With the November midterm elections less than a month away, you may be wondering how to effectively approach your members of Congress and those running for office to ensure they are aware of NARFE and its legislative priorities. How should you impress upon candidates and incumbents the vital work of the federal community between now and November 6?

In an upcoming NARFE Advocacy webinar, Grassroots Program Manager Molly Checksfield will provide suggestions on how to connect with legislators and candidates in the final weeks leading up to the midterm elections. October advocacy during an election year is unique, and you’ll want to approach your advocacy in a way that builds recognition for NARFE and its legislative priorities. The light at the end of the tunnel is visible, but the work isn’t done yet.

The “Preparing for Midterm Elections” webinar, including Q&A, will be held on Tuesday, October 16, at 2:00 p.m. ET. Registration for this live event is limited to the first 1,000 registrants, so click here to register now.

For questions about this upcoming webinar, please contact advocacy@narfe.org.

 Obtaining the Hotline

This weekly legislative message is emailed to NARFE members, posted on the NARFE website, www.narfe.org, and available to NARFE members via telephone (703-838-7780 and toll-free at 1-877-217-8234). Past editions are archived for NARFE member access. If you have any questions regarding the information in this Hotline, please email NARFE’s Legislative Department at leg@narfe.org or call 703-838-7760.

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Return to October 12, 2018

NARFE Headquarters, October 5, 2018

Message from NARFE President Richard G. Thissen:

“A 2019 federal employee pay raise will not be achievable without the unrelenting work of NARFE grassroots advocates across the country. Our outreach to members of Congress amassed strong bipartisan support in favor of a pay increase, but the 1.9 percent raise is not final yet. We are approaching the most crucial stages of the process and must continue our advocacy until the pay raise is officially signed into law. Please join me in calling and writing your legislators and tell them to appropriate a 1.9 percent average pay raise for the civil service and reject the president’s proposed pay freeze. “

In other important news this week, legislation reforming the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) was introduced. The WEP unfairly reduces the Social Security benefits of federal retirees in the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) just because they earned a public pension through years of hard work and also spent time in a Social Security-covered job. NARFE supports meaningful change and any form of substantial relief to federal retirees and all public servants. That is why NARFE supports the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act of 2018, which would significantly alleviate the unfair financial strain placed on those impacted by the WEP. More information is below.”

House-Senate Republican Preliminary Agreement on Federal Pay Increase

Media outlets are reporting House and Senate Republicans reached a preliminary agreement in favor of a federal pay increase in calendar year 2019. This tentative agreement increases the chances that the president’s proposed pay freeze is rejected by Congress. Though in favor of a federal employee pay raise, Democrats are opposed to another component of this House-Senate Republican agreement – a lift on the salary freeze as it applies to Vice President Mike Pence, senior Trump administration appointees and executive-level employees.

The negations are ongoing, and a decision is not likely to be finalized until after the mid-term elections. If Congress fails to follow through with an agreement in favor of a federal employee pay increase by 2019, the president’s proposed pay freeze will stand. It is important that NARFE members continue their unwavering advocacy by contacting their legislators to support this much-deserved federal employee pay raise. We cannot permit the pay gap between public and private-sector employees to widen further. We must not tolerate the unfair targeting of federal employees during a time of rising private-sector wages and a growing economy.

New WEP Reform Bill Introduced

Late last week, a bipartisan pair of congressmen – Reps. Kevin Brady, R-TX, and Richard Neal, D-MA – introduced legislation, H.R. 6933, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act of 2018, to modify the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). The WEP reduces the Social Security benefits of federal retirees covered by the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), and many state and local government retirees covered by similar systems, who earned Social Security benefits through other employment.

Under the bill, starting in 2020, individuals whose Social Security benefits are reduced by the WEP would receive an additional payment of $100 per month. Individuals receiving a WEP-reduced Social Security benefit based on their spouses’ employment would receive an additional $50 per month. These changes would apply to individuals who turn age 62 prior to 2025.

But individuals who turn age 62 in 2025 (those turning 55 this year) or later would be subject to a new formula designed to more accurately account for earnings based on covered employment, such as in private-sector jobs, compared to earnings from a non-Social Security covered position. This formula would affect each individual differently, but should increase Social Security benefits for a significant majority of individuals who would be subject to WEP under current law.

While the bill does not fully repeal WEP, it does represent a significant improvement over the status quo for CSRS retirees unfairly penalized for their public service – and for that reason, NARFE supports the bill. Please contact your representatives today to urge them to cosponsor the bill.

Grassroots Corner

Mark your calendars! NARFE’s Legislative Training Conference, LEGcon19, kicks off on Sunday, March 10, 2019, at the Mark Center Hilton Hotel in Alexandria, VA and culminates Wednesday, March 13, with a day of advocating on Capitol Hill followed by a closing reception. This will be the opportunity to enhance your advocacy skills, meet with your legislators on behalf of the federal community and return to your federation and chapter as an advocacy leader. Registration opens November 1, 2018!

Obtaining the Hotline

This weekly legislative message is emailed to NARFE members, posted on the NARFE website, www.narfe.org, and available to NARFE members via telephone (703-838-7780 and toll-free at 1-877-217-8234). Past editions are archived for NARFE member access. If you have any questions regarding the information in this Hotline, please email NARFE’s Legislative Department at leg@narfe.org or call 703-838-7760.

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Return to October 5, 2018

NARFE Headquarters, September 28, 2018

Message from NARFE President Richard G. Thissen:

“FEHB premiums will increase by only 1.3 percent on average in 2019 – the lowest increase since 1996. That’s welcome news for federal employees and retirees. But even with this very modest premium increase, federal employees still face the prospect of their take-home pay decreasing due to the president’s proposed federal pay freeze. Unfortunately, House and Senate negotiations have stalled on the appropriations bill that, if passed, would provide a 1.9 percent average pay increase, and the decision on federal pay likely will be delayed until after the mid-term elections. Please continue to urge your legislators to support a federal pay raise to cover even this very modest premium increase. Federal employees who work behind the scenes to keep our country safe and operating deserve a pay raise to keep pace with rising private-sector pay amid a strengthening economy.”

Congress Postpones Decision on Federal Pay, Passes Government Funding Measure to Avert Shutdown

The fate of a federal pay raise for calendar year 2019 will be delayed until after the start of fiscal year 2019 (FY 2019) and possibly until December. The House-Senate conference committee negotiating a final, bicameral agreement on H.R. 6147 reached an impasse. The Senate version of the appropriations package includes the 1.9 percent pay raise for federal employees, while the House version is silent on the issue. With no agreement, the House and Senate simply passed a continuing resolution (CR) to extend funding at this year’s levels for the agencies covered by the bill until December 7, 2018, postponing the battle for a federal pay raise. As a reminder, the president’s proposed pay freeze will take effect if Congress fails to take action prior to the beginning of 2019. Please contact your representatives now and urge them to support a much-deserved federal pay raise.

The good news is the CR will avert the looming threat of a government shutdown. With budget authority for most government agencies expiring at the end of the month, Congress needed to act. The House passed the CR along with the conference report on H.R. 6157, the full-year appropriations for the Departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, by a vote of 361 to 61. The previous week, the Senate passed the CR and conference report by a vote of 93 to 7. Now that bill heads to the president’s desk, where he is expected to sign it into law and avert a partial government shutdown.

At this point, Congress has passed five out of 12 spending bills so far, covering roughly 70 percent of discretionary spending for FY 2019. Congress now has until December 7 to finish the remaining seven appropriations bills.

Modest FEHB Premium Increases

On September 26, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced the average Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program premium will increase 1.3 percent in 2019, with the enrollee’s share rising an average of 1.5 percent. You can read NARFE President Richard G. Thissen’s response by clicking here. This is the lowest premium increase since the 1996 plan year. For comparison, premiums increased by 4 percent in 2018, 4.4 percent in 2017 and 6.4 percent in 2016. Further, OPM stated that this figure is competitive with other large private and public sector employers, whose average 2019 premium increases range from 1.16 percent to 6 percent. This modest increase in FEHB costs is proof that the program’s model of competing healthcare plans is working to keep costs down.

OPM also announced that 2019 Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP) dental plans will see an overall average premium increase of 1.2 percent and vision plans will see an overall average premium decrease of 2.8 percent.

The 2019 plan year Open Season will take place between November 12 and December 10, 2018. This will be an opportunity for the federal community to assess various coverage options and select the plans that meet their healthcare and financial needs. Enrollees’ new health plans will then become effective January 1, 2019.

The Combined Federal Campaign is Underway

The Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) is running full steam ahead between now and January 11, 2019. The success of this program is yet another testament to the caring, charitable nature of federal employees and retirees, and their willingness to go above and beyond for the well-being of their communities, their nation and the world. Federal retirees could contribute to the CFC for the first time starting last year, but their ability to participate was delayed by months due to legal complications. This year, there is nothing standing in the way of federal retirees who want to make a contribution. We encourage NARFE members to take part in the CFC by clicking here. Through this online portal, federal employees and retirees are able to contribute to thousands of vetted, eligible nonprofits through payroll deduction, annuities, credit or debit cards, and bank accounts. In addition to monetary donations, Feds can also volunteer their time and expertise to participating nonprofits working in their community. The CFC raised more than $8.3 billion since 1961 in support of a variety of charities dedicated to disaster relief, housing and shelter, the arts and culture, youth development, animal welfare and much more. You can learn more about the eligible charities by clicking here.

Grassroots Corner

Did you recently attend a congressional town hall, community event or meeting on behalf of NARFE? Please complete the Congressional Meeting or Event Feedback Form after any interaction with legislators and staff. When you complete this form, which is located on NARFE’s advocacy page under “Surveys,” your interactions are recognized by the Advocacy Department staff and ultimately help ensure that NARFE's lobbyists echo your message on Capitol Hill. Your dedication to NARFE and advancing our legislative agenda is appreciated.

Obtaining the Hotline

This weekly legislative message is emailed to NARFE members, posted on the NARFE website, www.narfe.org, and available to NARFE members via telephone (703-838-7780 and toll-free at 1-877-217-8234). Past editions are archived for NARFE member access. If you have any questions regarding the information in this Hotline, please email NARFE’s Legislative Department at leg@narfe.org or call 703-838-7760.

Return to September 28, 2018

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