Shutdown threat: Could this be the real thing?

Federal workers — whether of the emergency or expendable type — have gone through several countdowns to shutdown and survived, paychecks intact and on time. Depending on their jobs and agency, personal stress levels and time in government, some were squirming, some concerned, others just yawned it off.

Shutdowns — particularly when they don’t happen — look incredibly fake and stupid in hindsight. Why would either (or both) political party risk being blamed for such a futile exercise as closing part of the government — the fun part, like national parks — while paying workers forced to stay home the same as those who had to work?

It’s like taking the dare to stick your tongue on a frozen pole in the school yard. Yet both events — the tongue thing and shutdowns — still happen.

The current shutdown du jour deadline for 2018 is Jan. 19. Most people hope for a bipartisan resolution that will let the government keep on keeping on. Taxes have been taken off the table but the other issues, such as immigration and The Wall, remain. So too does the issue of raising budget caps under sequestration (the poison pill left by the Obama administration), which in its first year triggered both furloughs (in which some workers took a 20 percent pay hit) and later shutdowns.

Meantime, groups that represent federal workers, managers, postal workers and retirees are concerned that the federal retirement program will again be nominated for major cuts that could hurt current and future workers and retirees. For much of the 2017 legislative year, Congress — almost exclusively House Republicans — pushed major changes for both the FERS and CSRS programs. They ranged from making FERS workers pay more (up to 4.4 percent) for their benefits, to elimination of cost of living adjustments for current and future FERS retirees and diet COLAs (0.5 percent less than the annual rise in inflation) for CSRS retirees.

They also proposed basing future retirement benefits on the employees’ highest 5-year average salary instead of the current high-3 formula. Yet another save-money-plan would have eliminated the “gap” payment early FERS retirees get until they qualify for Social Security at age 62. That would have cost some future retirees tons of money, and been a gut-punch for firefighters, LEOs and air traffic controllers who are generally forced to retire at age 57.

Some workers were so worried about the possible changes that they retired earlier than planned, hoping they would be grandfathered in under current rules. As it turned out they didn’t need to (and it might not have helped anyhow) but they are still retired and off the payroll. Fine if they can afford it. Not so good if bailing out early means a less comfortable retirement. Or another job.

None of the above happened, although the threats were very serious at the time. And they will come back as issues.

Groups representing feds and retirees are trying to mobilize their members — and recruit lots of new ones — to tell politicians to keep their hands off long-promised federal retirement benefits. One way to do it is contact your Representative and (two Senators) and let them know you are out there. And how many feds and retirees live, work, pay taxes and, yes, vote in those states and districts.

Today at 10 a.m. on our Your Turn radio show Jessica Klement, staff vice president for advocacy at the National Active and Retired Federal Employees, will talk about the save-the-benefits effort and what you can do about it.

She’ll also give us background on what was threatened — but didn’t happen — last year and talk about why 2018 may be different… and not as forgiving.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By David Thornton

Although often used interchangeably, a 750ml bottle of alcohol is 1% smaller than a “fifth” (1/5 of a gallon).

Source: Wikipedia

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