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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Leave Transfer for Wildfires, TSP Portfolios Grow, and More

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The Office of Personnel Management announced Tuesday that it has established an emergency leave transfer program for federal employees that are victims of the recent wildfires in northern California.

Similar to recently approved programs for feds impacted by hurricanes in Houston, Puerto Rico and Florida, OPM’s latest measure allows federal employees to donate unused annual leave to colleagues living in areas affected by the wildfires that ravaged California wine country last month and who need additional time off without using their own paid leave.

Employees who intend to make use of the leave transfer program must live or work within one of the regions for which formal disaster declarations have been made in relation to the wildfires. They must apply to their agencies in writing, but an employee who is unable to do so may apply through a personal representative.

Acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan said in a statement that the program is an important tool to help federal employees affected by disasters to get back on their feet.

“More than 10,000 federal employees are working in areas affected by the wildfires in California,” McGettigan said. “As the Federal Emergency Management Agency continues to assess the impact of the wildfires, we anticipate the number of employees affected by this disaster to increase. With the establishment of the ELTP, OPM hopes to alleviate some of the stress for these federal employees.”

On Wednesday, officials with the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings program announced that every fund within the Thrift Savings Plan posted gains in October.

The C Fund’s common stocks led the way, increasing 2.33 percent last month and growing 16.90 percent for 2017. The I Fund, which is composed of international investments, continued its strong year with a 1.54 percent increase in October. Since January, the portfolio has gained 22.15 percent.

Small and midsize businesses in the S Fund saw 1.41 percent growth last month, bringing the total increase for 2017 up to 14.35 percent.

The fixed income (F) fund saw the slowest growth in October, increasing by 0.07 percent and bringing its gains this year to 3.44 percent. The G Fund, which is made up of government securities, grew 0.19 percent last month, for a 2017 total so far of 1.92 percent.

Likewise, every lifecycle fund, which shift investments toward more stable portfolios as people get closer to retirement, grew in value last month. The L Income Fund, designed for people who have already begun monthly withdrawals, grew 0.54 percent. L 2020 increased by 0.83 percent; L 2030, 1.27 percent; L 2040, 1.46 percent; and L 2050, 1.63 percent.

So far this year, the L Income fund increased by 5.10 percent; L 2020, 8.16 percent; L 2030, 11.87 percent; L 2040, 13.66 percent; and L 2050, 15.29 percent.

Over on Capitol Hill, Federal News Radio reports that Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., blasted proposals by congressional Republicans to reduce the cap on the amount of pre-tax money people can invest in their 401(k)s, including TSP accounts, at a town hall with employees at the National Institute of Standards and Technology Monday.

The proposal has come up within the context of the GOP’s tax reform initiative, which was slated to be formally unveiled later this week.

“It’ll make it more difficult for people to save for their retirement, putting more pressure on Social Security and more pressure, quite frankly, on government programs,” Cardin said. “Second, it’s a timing issue. It doesn’t raise any revenue; it just changes when you collect the revenue, so you’ll be digging an even deeper deficit in the out-years. I think there’s enough Republicans in the Senate to make it a non-starter. I don’t think that’s going to end up in the Senate bill.”

Erich Wagner is a staff correspondent covering pay, benefits and other federal workforce issues. He joined Soundinvestments in the spring of 2017 after extensive experience writing about state and local issues in Maryland and Virginia, most recently as editor-in-chief of the Alexandria Times. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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