Back from vacation: Here’s a quick catchup

If you’ve been away for awhile and this is your first day back on the job, welcome home.

If you are a member of Congress enjoy the extra week of vacation you’ve given yourself. You have a lot of irons in the fire and time is running out.

While you were away, here’s what happened on the job front — spoiler alert, not much!

The White House plan to close down the Office of Personnel Management is still on hold. Plans to shift many of its functions to the GSA — the Defense Department will handle security clearances — is proceeding but not a done deal. In June The Washington Post said the Trump administration was threatening furloughs without pay starting Oct. 1 for many OPM staffers, followed by layoffs, if Congress blocks the plan.

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The Jan. 1, 2020, pay raise for white collar, nonpostal federal workers was announced late Friday. President Donald Trump changed course by proposing civilian federal employees get an across-the-board pay raise of 2.6% while locality pay rates remain frozen at 2019 levels. The White House previously wanted a pay freeze and a new system that will better reward high-achievers. The House has OK’d a 3.1% raise with the Senate yet to act. If the Senate buys the House plan, and the president agrees to it, that would be the largest pay hike in years. But there are miles to go before this becomes a reality.

With a month to go in the cost of living adjustment countdown, federal, military and Social Security retirees are on track for a modest COLA in January. The increase, if any, will be based on the rise of the consumer prices index-W from this quarter (July, August, September) over the third quarter of last year. Right now the COLA could be worth 1.6 but that could change. The final number won’t be known until mid-October.

This year the benefits open season will run from Nov. 11 through Dec. 9. It’s when feds, retirees or their survivors can switch to a different health plan or option. Premiums are going up next year, by how much is yet to be announced, and benefits in some plans will change. Experts say that up to half of all enrollees would do better in coverage and premiums if they would shop and switch. That’s especially true of retirees some of whom have been in the same plan for decades. But each year only about 6% make a change and these are often young people looking for better coverage and/or lower premiums.

In addition to the health plan the open season covers the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program. Workers can also newly enroll or re-enroll in the flexible spending account program. Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance and the Long Term Care program are not included in the open enrollment period.

Despite the budget law signed by the president Congress, as per usual, won’t finish its appropriations work in time for the Oct. 1, 2020, fiscal year. At least 12 major appropriations are likely to wind up part of a continuing resolution Congress must pass, and the president sign, to avoid another shutdown.

Starting Sept. 15, Thrift Savings Plan investors will get a lot of new options for making withdrawals. The idea is to convince more people to leave their money in the TSP once they leave government. Currently more than half move it to other tax-deferred investment options when they retire or move to other jobs. Here’s a snapshot of the changes reported by FNN’s Nicole Ogrysko:

  • The option to take monthly, quarterly and annual installment payments;
  • Ability to take unlimited post-separation, partial withdrawals;
  • Ability to take partial withdrawals and installment payments simultaneously;
  • Option to choose the source of withdrawal payments, including traditional, Roth or both;
  • Up to four age-based in-service withdrawals at age 59-and-a-half or older; and
  • An end to contribution suspensions if a participant takes a hardship withdrawal.

For more detail on the TSP changes, click here.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Amelia Brust

Composer Johann Sebastian Bach was such a coffee devotee that he wrote a satirical one-act operetta, called the “Coffee Cantata,” based on a poem by his collaborator Christian Friedrich Henrici, known as Picander. The piece mocks the social outcry around the growing coffeehouse scene in Germany in the early 18th century, and describes a father scolding his daughter for partaking in the new “vice” drink, even as her mother and grandmother also have a cup.

Source: Google books

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