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Benefits for Government Workers Flip from Perk to Pain (1)

Jan. 24, 2019, 6:26 PMUpdated: Jan. 24, 2019, 11:02 PM

Federal workers poised to miss their second paycheck Jan. 25 due to the partial government shutdown should plan on footing additional bills to keep their benefits intact.

The month-long budget fight between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats continues to wreak havoc on 800,000 government employees’ personal finances, with bills piling up as account balances shrivel. The Office of Personnel Management compounded the misery Jan. 23, alerting furloughed and essential staff that with no payroll to deduct certain employee benefits would soon be their responsibility.

Vision and dental charges were set to kick in immediately but OPM abruptly changed course Jan. 24, delaying things for another pay period. The Washington Post calculated that the added out-of-pocket costs would range from $6-$150 a month to keep those policies going if the political standoff wasn’t resolved this weekend. Starting Feb. 8, the affected workers will be on the hook for vision, dental, and long-term care insurance bills. Other built-in costs remain unaffected—for now.

Covered

  • Healthcare: premiums will accumulate and be withheld from pay upon return to pay status (OPM)
  • Government-sponsored life insurance: coverage continues for 12 consecutive months in a nonpay status without cost to the employee or to the agency

Pay Up

  • Vision/Dental coverage: BENEFEDS will generate a bill to enrollees for premiums when no payment is received for two consecutive pay periods
  • Long term care insurance: If Long Term Care Partners does not receive payment for three consecutive pay periods, they will begin to direct bill the enrollee

On Hold

  • Flexible spending accounts: The employee remains enrolled in FSAFEDS, but eligible health care claims incurred during a non-pay status will not be reimbursed until the employee returns to pay status
  • Annual leave: Furloughed and excepted employees will receive credit for any annual and sick leave you would have otherwise accrued during the period of the lapse once funding is provided
  • Retirement account contributions: No retirement deductions will be made if you aren’t receiving pay

The only consolation OPM offered was a memo floating telework and flexible scheduling as possible pressure release valves.

“Many employees performing excepted duties during the furlough have the additional hardship of losing their subsidies for childcare and transit benefits but continuing to incur childcare and commuting expenses in order to continue reporting to work,” OPM acting director Margaret Weichert wrote Jan. 23. “We strongly encourage agencies to be as accommodating as possible during the current lapse in appropriations.”

Meanwhile, here are the necessities unpaid workers who swarmed the Capitol on Jan. 23 – a group dominated by incensed members of the American Federation of Government Employees and Service Employees International Union – told Blomberg Law they are currently struggling with.

  • Mortgage/rent
  • Food/groceries
  • Utilities
  • Child care
  • Car payments
  • Car insurance
  • Gas/transportation

To contact the reporter on this story: Warren Rojas in Washington at wrojas@bloomberglaw.com