Lawmakers revived a host of bills this week that would impact the federal workforce, through changes to payments, retirement benefits and more.
The Federal Employee Civil Relief Act, for one, would let federal employees and contractors postpone certain types of payments during government shutdowns, or if the government defaults on its debt.
Specifically, feds would get a 30-day cushion, after a government shutdown ends, before they would have to make payments on loans and other types of financial obligations.
Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), who reintroduced the legislation on March 2, said the bill would help federal employees avoid foreclosures, evictions and loan defaults, all of which can occur as a result of a government shutdown.
The reintroduction of the bill comes a few years after the 2019 government shutdown. At the time, Warner and Kaine led the charge on a previous version of the same legislation, although it was ultimately not enacted.
“This bill addresses the real threat of federal workers and contractors losing their homes, falling behind on student loans and other bills, having their car repossessed or losing their health insurance because they have been furloughed during a shutdown or required to work without pay,” Kaine and Warner said in a joint press statement on March 3.
Groups including the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) and the Federal Managers Association (FMA) have voiced support for the bill.
“We have seen in the past that many federal employees rely on their regular paychecks to meet their rent, mortgage, car payments and other financial obligations,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said in an email to Federal News Network. “It only makes sense that employees caught in a financial crisis not of their own making be protected from creditors and provided peace of mind that they can continue to keep a roof over their heads and the lights on for themselves and their families.”
The Senate version of the Federal Employee Civil Relief Act so far has 16 Democrat co-sponsors. There is not currently a companion bill in the House.
Eyeing changes to federal firefighters’ retirement
Another bill, which Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) re-introduced this week, would adjust the calculation of retirement benefits for federal firefighters.
Federal firefighters are often required to work up to 72 hours per week, which includes 19 hours of mandatory overtime. Although federal firefighters receive time-and-a-half pay for these overtime hours, the overtime hours are currently counted as standard work hours when calculating for retirement benefits, in effect lowering pensions for federal firefighters.
In contrast, as lawmakers and proponents of the bill highlighted, firefighters at the state and local levels receive overtime compensation fully calculated toward their retirement.
“By taking into account the number of overtime hours worked by federal firefighters each year, this bill would allow for a more accurate and equitable retirement calculation for our nation’s federal firefighters,” Connolly said in a March 1 press statement.
The bill would also limit federal firefighters’ workweeks to 60 hours, rather than the current 72 hours. If the legislation is enacted, the Office of Personnel Management would have one year to implement the cap on the maximum workweek hours for the front line federal employees.
The changes included in the legislation would help with maintaining federal firefighting staff, which has been a significant challenge in recent years, according to NFFE National President Randy Erwin.
“At a time when federal agencies are struggling to recruit and retain firefighters, this will go a long way to keeping crews fully staffed and capable of completing their missions,” Erwin said in an email to Federal News Network. “We owe it to our dedicated federal firefighters to provide them with a fair wage, manageable work hours and a fair pension when they retire.”
In other recent efforts to support federal firefighters, bipartisan lawmakers voted to pass a separate bill, the Federal Firefighter Fairness Act, as part of the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. The legislation offers workers’ compensation to federal firefighters for cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer and other infectious diseases — all of which are common for firefighters to get after years on the job.
Renewed bills would impact law enforcement officers
Similarly, another reintroduced bill would change how retirement benefits are calculated for federal law enforcement officers and other federal first responders.
The Law Enforcement Officer Fair Retirement Act, which Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) re-introduced on March 1, would count overtime hours toward retirement benefits, specifically for federal law enforcement officers. If enacted, OPM would have one year to publish regulations on the changes.
“This would ensure all overtime hours worked are counted when calculating retirement benefits for federal law enforcement officers,” Pascrell said in a March 1 press statement.
And separately, another bill would alter the definition of federal law enforcement officers to include a broader range of federal positions.
The Law Enforcement Officers Equity Act, which Pascrell also introduced, would impact about 30,000 federal employees. It would count, for instance, police officers who work at the Department of Veterans Affairs as federal law enforcement officers.
By expanding the position’s definition, more front line employees would be eligible for 6(c) retirement benefits, which most law enforcement officers already receive. Specifically, 6(c) retirement benefits let employees retire after 20 years of service at or after reaching age 50, or after 25 years of service at any age.
The legislation has bipartisan support, as well as backing from several federal advocacy organizations. Reps. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) are the bill’s original cosponsors.
“The current federal retirement system penalizes officers who work beyond their normal hours to ensure the safety and security of the American people. This has a negative impact on morale within law enforcement and disincentivizes dedicated service,” FLEOA President Larry Cosme said in a press statement. “This is a small but significant step toward addressing a legacy of disparate treatment for federal law enforcement professionals.”