Pay-retirement shutdowns: Is October the cruelest month?

With 12 days until the new fiscal year and less than 50 from the midterm elections, many current and retired federal workers have a lot on their plate.

For instance, those who got slammed by Hurricane Florence are now in recovery mode and a lot of people in the fed-heavy Virginia, North and South Carolina path of the monster storm are dealing with both personal and work related issues.

Others have taken some big financial hits and are dealing with insurance issues. More still are commuting through unusually heavy traffic as evacuees return, or try to return home on clogged highways. Agencies that closed will have to decide the pay status of employees who couldn’t get to work as well as the work-status of regular teleworkers. The Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund, the feds-helping-feds charity, is likely to be swamped with requests for emergency loans, as it has been during past disasters and government shutdowns.

Many retirees, including from the military and Social Security Administration, are watching the cost of living countdown clock in hopes their January inflation catch-up will be 3 percent or higher. They won’t get the final number until mid-October.

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The majority of workers who are under the Federal Employees Retirement System are still waiting to see what, if anything, Congress and/or the White House do to their retirement package. Earlier this year there seemed to be a good chance Congress or at least the House would okay an increase in employee contributions at 1 percent a year for the next six years for FERS workers.

There was also a serious proposal to eliminate all cost of living adjustments for FERS retirees, and to reduce them 0.5 percent below the actual rate of inflation for Civil Service Retirement System retirees. But the drive to trim the federal pension package seems to have lost steam just as it did about this time last year.

Last week the House and Senate punted voting on an appropriations package for Energy, veterans programs and the legislative branch itself, that moves the deadline for a government-shutdown from Oct. 1 to Dec. 7 (the anniversary of Pearl Harbor). That takes away the threat of an immediate shutdown but moves the new date to the start of the Christmas shopping season.

Folks who read political tea leaves for a living seem to be leaning in favor of a 1.9 percent pay raise next January for more than 2 million white collar federal workers. Earlier this year President Donald Trump said he would not recommend any raise next year and that seemed to be a done deal. But the upcoming midterm elections have many members of the House examining the number of federal workers and retirees in their districts. More than 180 members of Congress of both parties have endorsed the raise which was approved earlier in a Senate appropriations bill package.

The House was silent on the raise but Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) said she had the assurance of the GOP leadership of the House Appropriations Committee that they will back the pay raise. Comstock’s district in the affluent D.C. suburbs has one of the highest concentrations of federal workers and retirees in Congress. Once solidly Republican, it has been trending purple-to-red in recent years. A pre-election federal pay raise announced before Nov. 6 could do wonders for shaky incumbents in a number of close races, especially Republicans.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Amelia Brust

On this day 43 years ago, heiress Patty Hearst was captured in her apartment and arrested for armed robbery. Hearst had been kidnapped in Berkeley, California, by the small, leftist Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) since Feb. 4, 1974, who had demanded her family provide food to everyone from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles. Hearst was thought to have succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome when she was seen on camera participating in a bank robbery alongside SLA members.

Source: History.com