Monthly Archives: May 2017

Agency Spotlight–Injuries to OPM Workers

opmConcluding our spotlight of the Office of Personnel Management this month, we’re going to look at the most common ways an OPM employee can become injured.

Cervical Spinal Stenosis

Cervical Spinal Stenosis can squeeze and compress nerve roots where they leave the spinal cord. It can also compress or damage the spinal cord itself. This can lead to pain, stiffness, numbness, and weakness in the neck, arms, and legs.

It’s easy to see how someone with this injury can underperform in a sedentary position like this one. Sitting for prolonged periods of time cause pain throughout the entire body. Even flying would be tough because not only are you sitting on a flight for an extended amount of time, but also having to get through the airport quickly.

Severe Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

TMJ causes pain and/or tenderness in the face and jaw area, and neck and shoulders. It can also cause problems with opening your mouth wide, chewing and talking. For someone in this Special Agent position, being able to talk for an extended amount of time is a requirement. The interview process is an essential job duty.

Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative Disc Disease can occur anywhere along the spine. It’s the breakdown of discs that inhibit the spine to properly flex, bend, and twist. It can also put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, leading to pain and possibly affecting nerve function.

Someone with this disease working as a Special Agent may have a very tough time performing their essential job duties. The disease can be very painful, so repetitive motions can become almost impossible. Not to mention, the pain makes it hard to focus on work and remember information, which, for someone who works with extremely sensitive information, can lead to a security issue.

Harris Federal Law Firm has helped many OPM clients with their federal disability retirement claims. These are just a few examples of who we have assisted. If you have been suffering from a disease or injury that has caused you to become less than sufficient at work, please give us a call at 877-226-2723. You can also fill out this INQUIRY form. Our consultation is always FREE.

To learn more about how each one of these has affected these specific job positions, click below.

Agency Spotlight—Common Injuries of OPM Workers

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How Life Events Can Affect Your Annuity

life

Life events are anything that essentially changes your status; marriage, divorce, the death of a spouse, even reemployment. This post will look at how each one of these can affect your retirement annuity and benefits. It will also only focus on those covered under FERS.

Marriage After Retirement

You may choose to elect a reduced annuity and provide a survivor annuity to your spouse and will have 2 years from the date of marriage to make this election. You can elect a full survivor benefit (50% of your unreduced annual basic benefit) or a partial survivor benefit (25% of your unreduced annual basic benefit). The deductions in your annuity, if you elect to provide the survivor benefit, will be the following:

  • 10 % of your basic annuity for a full survivor benefit
  • 5% of your basic annuity for a partial survivor benefit

 

Divorce After Retirement

If your annuity is currently reduced to provide a survivor benefit to your spouse, that reduction will be eliminated (unless the divorce decree states otherwise). A divorced spouse is no longer covered under FEHB since they are no longer a family member. Any children, however, can still have coverage.

You may also still elect a reduced annuity to provide your former spouse a survivor benefit.

Death

If your current spouse dies and you are receiving a reduced annuity to provide for that survivor annuity, you may be able to receive an increased annuity after OPM has proof of the death. The same thing applies if a former spouse dies that had a survivor annuity.

Reemployment

Reemployment will cause your FERS annuity to stop if:

  • You’re a disability annuitant whom OPM has found recovered or restored to earning capacity prior to reemployment.
  • You’re a disability annuitant who was medically disqualified from continuing serving in the National Guard.

FEHB

If your annuity stops upon reemployment, your health insurance stops as well, as an annuitant. If your position allows it, you can reenroll in the program when reemployed.

FEGLI

As with FEHB, if your annuity stops upon reemployment, your life insurance, as an annuitant, stops without a right to convert it to an individual policy. You can get life insurance coverage as an employee under the same conditions as any other rehired federal employee.

FEDVIP

Again, if your annuity stops, your FEDVIP coverage as an annuitant stops. If you are eligible for FEHB coverage, you can enroll in the FEDVIP program when reemployed. If you are still receiving an annuity, you can have your premiums deducted from your paycheck. Reemployed annuitants want to make that change because retirees pay FEDVIP premiums with post-tax dollars and employees pay with pre-tax dollars. If your new position doesn’t have FEDVIP eligibility, you can keep that coverage as an annuitant.

To learn more about how these affect your annuity, click below.

 

How Do Life Events Affect Your Annuity and Benefits?

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Agency Spotlight–Recent News Out of OPM

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Below are a few stories from the Office of Personnel Management that have recently been in the news.

OPM Reduces Retirement Claims Backlog in April

OPM reduced its retirement claims backlog by almost 8 percent last month. They received 6,581 new claims, but they processed 8,179, which brought the backlog down under 20,000 to 18,932. It was almost at 24,000 earlier this year. They would like to keep a steady state of 13,000 applications, however, it hasn’t been under that since December 2015.

New Annuity Scam Hits Federal Retirees

OPM has alerted federal retirees of a scam where imposters contact federal annuitants to try to steal money from them. How it works: The imposter claims to be an OPM employee, contacts a federal annuitant, and threatens to cut off his/her retirement payments saying an immediate payment is required.

The imposters sound convincing and use real names and titles. They may also have personally identifiable information of the retirees they are contacting. OPM posted a blog that says they never make these kinds of calls and told annuitants not to believe this.

OPM Updates Severance Pay Calculation Guide

This guide was created to help agencies calculate an employees’ pay based on age and length of service. Full-time and part-time employees are eligible to receive severance pay if they’ve served at least 12 consecutive months and were involuntarily separated from their positions, other than firing for poor performance or misconduct.

Severance pay includes:

  • 1 week of pay at the basic rate for the position the employee held at the time of separation for each full year of creditable service through 10 years.
  • 2 weeks of pay at the basic rate for the position that employee held at the time of separation for each full year of creditable service beyond 10 years.
  • 25 percent of any applicable amount for each full 3 months of creditable service after the final first year.

Most career and career-conditional employees in competitive or excepted service are eligible to receive severance pay. Most presidential appointees are not.

The guidelines are meant to help agencies “considering and/or undergoing some type of reshaping (e.g. reorganization, management directed reassignments, furlough, transfer of function, reduction in force)”, OPM said.

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Trump’s Budget Targets the Retirement Systems

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Current federal employees and retirees may have reason to worry about changes to the federal retirement system. Federal financial experts are saying proposals in the FY2018 budget, just released, could leave a significant impact on both current retirees and employees, and future workers.

Trumps’ full budget proposal outlines $3.6 trillion in cost reductions over the next 10 years, including changes to the federal retirement system that would save the government more than $4.1 billion in 2018 and at least $149 billion over the next 10 years.

Specific Changes to the Retirement Systems

  • Increase in employee contributions by one percent each year for the next 6 years
  • Eliminate COLA’s for current and future FERS participants
  • Cutting COLA’s by 0.5 percent for CSRS participants of what the typical formula currently allows
  • Basing future retirement benefits on the average of an employee’s highest 5 years of salary. It is currently based on length of service, salary, and highest 3-year average salary.

The two that are the most worrisome are increasing employee contributions and eliminating the COLA for FERS participants. These changes could force current employees to delay their retirements to contribute more to their TSP’s. This would decrease an employee’s monthly take-home pay, which may cause an undue hardship.

Good or Bad News?

Art Stein, a financial planner, and investment manager said, “It means the purchasing power of the FERS annuity is going to decrease every year. How much will solely depend on how high the inflation rate is. Although the inflation rate has been low for some time, there’s no reason to expect that to continue. I really worry about people who are already retired, because retirement planning has been based upon the promises and guarantees from the federal government about their retirement annuity, and suddenly they’re going to see a big decrease in future benefits.”

Eliminating the COLA would require FERS retirees to use their savings more quickly as the rate of inflation increases. These changes may also lead to a problem with recruiting and retaining workers in the future. “Historically, people who maybe were on the fence one way or the other as to who to go to work for when they got out of college, the ones who leaned toward government were because of benefits like this. How are they going to attract them in the future? What are they going to use? That was one big selling point that government always had; they had great benefits.”

Ultimately, Congress must approve the spending plan.

To read more about his budget proposal, click below.

President Trump’s Budget Proposed Budget Targets the Federal Retirement System

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New USPS Contract Could Bring Pay and Benefit Changes

payA newly unveiled tentative labor contract puts 200,000 U.S. Postal Service employees in line for a raise, however, they could also see a decrease in health benefits. The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) represents more than 213,000 city mailmen/women reached an agreement with USPS management to avoid binding arbitration.

Pay Increases

NALC members will vote in the coming months on whether to formally ratify the contract. The agreement would begin retroactively to May 21, 2016, and continue through September 20, 2019. All city letter carriers would receive a 1.2 percent pay raise retroactive to November 26, 2016, and a 1.3 percent pay increase effective November 25, 2017. Those on the second level of the 2-grae pay scale would receive a 2.1 percent raise in 2018.

On top of those general wage increases, workers will also receive a series of 7 cost of living adjustments throughout the life of the contract. Non-career employees represented by NALC would see an additional boost and career carrier assistants would receive new step increases. Substitute carriers would receive payments adding up to a dollar per hour over the course of their first year at USPS. They would also receive more generous wage increases than career employees.

Health Benefit Cuts

There are also cuts being proposed too. USPS would cut its contribution towards employees’ health plans by 3 percent through 2019. However, they would still end up paying 76 percent of any given plan. If this agreement is ratified, USPS and NALC would form a Joint Workplace Improvement Process to address more issues.

Fredric Rolando, NALC president said, “I am very happy that our members will have a chance to make the final decision about this contract through the ratification process outlined in our union’s constitution.”

To learn more about this, click below.

New Contract Could Bring Changes to Pay and Benefits for USPS Workers

 

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OPM Processing Time for Federal Disability Retirement

application

Question of the Week: “How long will it take for OPM to receive my disability retirement application, and how long will it take them to make a decision?”

A: We’re asked this question all the time. And the truth is, the timeline varies. We’ve seen disability retirement claims receive a decision in as little as 3 months, and some take longer than a year.

So why so long for some?

First, it depends if you’re separated from your agency or not.

  • If you are still working for your agency, or have been separated LESS than 31 days, your application will get sent to your employing agency. There are parts of the application that you fill out, and then parts that your agency fills out. Generally, this may not take that long. The part that may take a while, however, is getting medical records and your physicians’ statement. Your agency may have “agency specific forms”, so depending on what agency you work for, this part could take longer. The agency then sends your application to their payroll department before it gets sent to OPM. Your application will then get sent to OPM in Boyers, PA where it is assigned a CSA (Civil Service Annuity) number. This could take 3-4 weeks. Your application is then sent to OPM in Washington, DC, where it could take months to get assigned a legal administrative specialist.
  • If you’ve been separated longer than 31 days, your application is submitted directly to OPM, where it’s assigned a CSA number. This is generally faster than the former.

“How long will it take then to make a decision?”

  • OPM processes disability retirement claims on a “first in, first out” basis. There is no specific way to expedite it.
  • Disability and voluntary retirement applications are submitted to the same place, so there’s no preference given to a disability retirement application.
  • They have a constant backlog of retirement applications. While their goal is to maintain a steady state of 13,000 claims, and process most within 60 days, that’s just not the reality.
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Your Benefits and Returning to Federal Service

benefitsYesterday, we looked at what happens to your benefits when you leave federal service before becoming eligible for retirement. This post will look at what happens to your benefits if you leave federal service, and then return. The following assume you return to a permanent position.

You can continue or enroll in all the benefits that you are eligible for—health insurance, life insurance, etc.

Health Benefits

If you were covered under FEHB right up until the day you left and you picked it back up immediately upon return, your coverage is considered “continuous”. This is especially important for meeting the 5-year requirement for carrying FEHB into your retirement.

FEGLI

If you had this coverage before resigning and your break was less than 180 days, you’ll be enrolled in the FEGLI coverage you had when you left and you won’t have the opportunity to elect any other coverage. Contrary, if the break was more than 180 days, you’ll be enrolled in the FEGLI coverage you had, but you can also elect other coverage.

Sick Leave

Any sick leave you had the time of separation will be re-credited to you. You will also begin earning annual leave based on your length of service, including service you had before leaving.

Thrift Savings Plan

You can resume contributions to your TSP, although you can’t recontribute any TSP funds you withdrew after resigning. If you rolled money over from your TSP to another qualified plan, you can roll that account into your TSP.

Retirement System

If you were in the FERS retirement system, you will return to that system. If you had less than 5 years of creditable civilian service at the time of your separation, you would contribute 4.4 percent (4.9 percent if you are returning to a position covered by special provisions for law enforcement officers and firefighters) of your salary to the FERS system regardless of how much you contributed when you left.

On the other hand, if you had 5 or more years of creditable civilian service at the time you left, you would contribute at the same rate you were doing so before.

To learn more, click below.

What Happens to Your Benefits if You Return to Federal Service?

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Your Benefits and Leaving Federal Service

servicePeople leave jobs all the time, for various reasons. Those who work in the federal government are no different. As with any job move, you must think about health insurance, 401k, annual leave, etc. While leaving federal service requires you to think about these as well, there are a couple more things to consider. All the following apply if you leave before you are eligible to retire.

Health Insurance

You will get an automatic 31-day extension of your health insurance. After those 31 days, you can convert to an individual policy or continue coverage for 18 months under a temporary continuation of coverage (TCC). The cost for this varies, but it’s your share plus the government’s’ share plus a 2 percent administrative fee. In both situations, no physical is required and there’s no ban on pre-existing conditions.

Life Insurance

This can be converted into an individual policy, but can’t be a term policy and must have level premiums.

Pension

If you leave retirement funds on deposit, you will be entitled to a CSRS/FERS pension later if you have at least 5 years of federal service.

Annual Leave

Any annual leave, credit hour and comp time balance will be paid to you in a lump soon after you leave. The exception here is sick leave. It will do you no good unless you return to service, in which case it will be credited back to you.

TSP

When you leave federal service, you are not required to withdrawal from your Thrift Savings Plan. You are still allowed to make inter-fund transfers. You can also transfer your TSP to an IRA or an employer tax-deferred retirement plan. If you choose to transfer your funds, make sure it’s a direct transfer to avoid any withholding. Another thing to keep in mind is if you separate from service before the year you reach age 55 and you withdraw money from you TSP before the age of 59 ½, you will be subject to a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty plus taxes.

If you plan on leaving federal service, especially now with all the furlough and reduction-in-force talks, make sure that you understand how that will affect your benefits.

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Can Unions Protect Members During an Agency Reform?

unionsThe Office of Management and Budget has directed agencies to submit a “near final” version of their reform plans by June 30. Included in this is a progress report on workforce reduction and a proposal to “maximize employee performance”. Then in September, agencies will submit their final reform plans and long-term strategies for workforce cuts. This is part of their budget requests for FY2019.

Union representatives remain hopeful that agency leaders will consult them in the workforce reduction plans; however, agencies don’t have to do this. Unions may be able to protect their members during the reorganization by lobbying Congress.

American Federation of Government Employees

The AFGE represents close to 700,000 federal workers. Policy director, Jacque Simon, said the first step of streamlining an agency is to talk with the rank and file. “There are some good ideas in this guidance, and ideally [leadership] would sit down and talk to front line workers about their ideas for how to save money, where resources should go and kinds of needs they’ve been made aware of through the course of their work. That’s how it ought to work.”

He did, however, express concern that agencies’ approaches will differ depending on the administrations’ opinion of their missions and leadership. Administration officials don’t have to bargain with unions until they plan to implement changes that would alter union members’ terms of employment, including relocation, changes to workday or workspace, reductions-in-force, or layoffs.

National Treasury Employees Union

The NTEU has a similar stance. The president of NTEU, Tony Reardon, said, “No effective reorganization of government is possible without the ideas and recommendations of front-line employees who have dedicated their careers to serving the public.”

NTEU believes Congress will see the harm deep cuts to agencies would do. Ultimately, the final word comes from Congress on how the government gets structured and funded. If RIF’s occur, NTEU plans to push for ways to help those affected find new federal positions or secure financial compensation or early retirement. “NTEU would work to safeguard employees. In the case of RIF’s, NTEU would work to ensure priority placements, early outs or buyouts and use other mitigation tools as provided under current law to protect employees.”

Another thing to consider during this time is federal disability retirement. If you think you may qualify for this benefit please give us a call at 877-226-2723. The consultation is always FREE. You can also fill out this INQUIRY form. We would love the opportunity to speak with you.

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Support Functions of OPM

support

Continuing our spotlight this month of the Office of Personnel Management is a look at their agency support functions.

OPM offers many different services for the various agencies of the government. They have many support functions within their agency to ensure they run as efficiently as possible.

Chief Financial Officer

This person is responsible for financial leadership of OPM, including responsibility for all OPM disbursements and accountability processes, as well as management and coordination of OPM planning, budgeting, and analysis.

Chief Information Officer

This person is committed to delivering innovative, cost-effective, and secure information management solutions that support OPM’s programs and initiatives. They also provide services to all OPM offices and provide information and services to the public and other agencies. They do this by:

  • Through Enterprise Human Resources Integration and maintain the integrity of electronic official personnel folder (eOPF), which protects information, rights, benefits, and entitlements of federal employees.
  • With Fedscope. This provides statistical information about the federal civilian workforce.
  • Responsible for OPM’s forms programs.
  • Manage interagency Human Resources line of Business Initiative. They aim to reduce unnecessary duplication of redundancy in HR systems and processes across the federal government.

Planning and Policy Analysis

This provides the Director with reports, information and other analysis assessing program trends and policy issues that affect OPM. Their scope spans the full range of HR issues such as workforce supply, pay, benefits, and diversity. An area of responsibility is the analysis of policy options, legislation changes and trends that affect OPM’s management of health and insurance benefits for federal employees.

Diversity and Inclusion and Equal Employment Opportunity

This keeps OPM in compliance with laws, regulations, policies, and guidance that prohibit discrimination in the federal workplace. EEO claims can range from race, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, and genetic information. They are responsible for encouraging resolution and the processing of informal/formal EEO complaints.

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