Federal workers will learn this month about their January pay raise (look for about 3 percent) and their new health premiums (look for a jump of 20 percent or more).
The ripple effect of both will hit nearly every person and business here: Even if you don't work for Uncle Sam chances are you live with, next to or off of somebody who does.
Uncle Sam is the area's largest single employer: 400,000 civilians in the Washington Baltimore area, 75,000 military personnel plus 100,000 government retirees here. Every other person here is covered by the federal health program.
The civil service's board of directors, Congress, is out of town for a month. But because its members get the same raise, and pay the same premiums, as workers, the board will take an unusual interest in both issues. The pay raise will be denounced as too little, the premium increase as too much. But both are likely to happen anyhow.
What Congress can and will do, however, is take action on some important job-related bills when it returns in September. On the agenda are:Early Retirement: Many federal workers are wild about the plan to offer about one-sixth of the federal work force a special early out option this year. The bill by Sen. William V. Roth Jr. (R-Del.) would extend the early-out to employes with 25 years of service at any age ranging to workers who are 57 with as little as five years of service. Also included would be any employe who is now within five years of being able to retire under normal age-service rules. Pensions would be trimmed 2 percent for each year the person retiring was under age 55.
But Roth's bill is going nowhere without the support of Democrats, who control Congress or federal-postal unions who oppose the Roth bill, which would cost them members, and, they believe, drastically reduce government services to the public.Social Security: The influental House Ways and Means Committee has approved two important changes in the way the new Federal Employees Retirement System affects a Social Security benefit a worker has earned, or one that a worker hopes to collect as the spouse or survivor of a Social Security recipient.
Under current, law workers who switch to the FERS system for even one day can avoid the so-called public pension offset. The offset trims a survivor or spousal Social Security benefit $2 for every $3 the individual gets in a civil service or other public pension. If the committee plan becomes law, workers who are 60 or under would have to go into FERS and stay in it for at least 5 years to avoid the offset. Those between 65 and 61 would have to be under FERS from six months to four years to avoid it.
Congress also will look at another committee-approved change in Social Security benefits for federal workers. That is the so-called windfall benefits law. Currently it reduces a part of the Social Security benefit of any government retiree who spent less than 30 years paying into the Social Security system. The committee amendment would eliminate that reduction for anyone with 25 or more years of Social Security-covered service, and minimize the reduction for persons with as little as 21 years under Social Security.Leave Sharing: The outlook is good for the plan to allow federal agencies to create voluntary leave banks. Under the proposal, employes could donate their own leave time to be used by workers who need it for family or medical emergencies, but who have exhausted their own leave and can't afford to take leave without pay. Leave requests would be handled by committees similar to credit union loan approval committees.