Question: You’ve written about federal employees getting either a pay freeze or 1.9 percent in January but I saw a story saying the COLA will be close to 3 percent. Which is right?
Answer: Probably that story was about the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, for retirees. That is based on a calculation of inflation that with one month to go in the measuring period stands at about 2.8 percent. It could end up higher or lower when the final count is announced in October.
COLAs go to retirees, not employees, and are paid automatically each January unless blocked. People who retired under the older Civil Service Retirement System get the full amount. Most of those retired under the Federal Employees Retirement System don’t receive COLAs until age 62 and even those are capped—at 2 percent, if the figure falls between 2 and 3 percent.
Current employees receive raises (although many call them COLAs), which Congress and the White House negotiate each year in the budget. For January 2019, a freeze and an average 1.9 percent raise are the two main options on the table. A decision could come at any time, or it could be several or more weeks away.