During deliberations, NTEU worked hard to protect federal employee pay and rights and fought for adequate agency funding. The omnibus bill includes several notable items of interest to federal employees.
EPA Budget Summary: Flat funding for EPA operating expenses.
The omnibus appropriations measure proposes $8.139 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), equal to the fiscal year 2015 enacted level. EPA operating programs funded through the Environmental Programs and Management appropriation are at $2.613 billion, equal to the fiscal year 2015 enacted level, and $141 million more than the House Appropriations Committee mark and $52 million more than the Senate Appropriations Committee mark. NTEU strongly made the case to Congress that the amounts in both the Chairmen’s marks were insufficient. While we are pleased the Omnibus appropriations bill rejects those harmful cuts, it remains NTEU’s position that flat funding still does not meet the needs of the important work EPA employees perform. With the funding provided in the Omnibus, EPA will have the lowest staffing level since 1989.
Pay Increase: Executive Order on Pay Raise Issued
President Obama has issued an Executive Order implementing the 1.3 percent average pay increase for General Schedule federal employees, effective with the first pay period of 2016. The President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 budget proposal to Congress recommended a 1.3 percent average pay increase, with one percent designated for the across-the-board pay raise and the remaining amount allocated to increasing locality pay rates. Thirteen new locality areas were added for 2016.
Congress did not include any language designating or blocking a pay raise in the now-enacted FY16 omnibus appropriations measure. The spending bill also included NTEU-supported language to ensure that wage-grade employees will receive the same adjustment in 2016, though the timing of these payments varies. View the 2016 General Schedule pay tables.
Credit Monitoring/Identity Theft Protection
The omnibus measure includes an NTEU-supported requirement for OPM to provide credit monitoring and ID theft protection to individuals affected by the recent data breaches for 10 years and raises the amount for protection from $1 million to $5 million. This is a significant expansion of the one or three years of services being offered depending on which breach (personnel records versus background investigations) individuals were affected by.
Excise Tax Delayed
This funding measure defers the start of the so-called Cadillac tax on certain health insurance plans by two years—to 2020 instead of 2018 as called for under current law. NTEU supports the delay which gives the union more time to work to protect the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP).
The health plan excise tax was originally scheduled to take effect in 2013, but was previously delayed by five years over widespread concerns of its impact on health plans and enrollees.
While individuals will not be directly taxed, the concern is that employers and issuers are responding to the coming tax by considering raising the enrollee share of premiums, and by increasing deductibles, copays, and other enrollee out-of-pocket costs.
Like other health plans, the FEHBP is not immune from the excise tax, or from its effects on enrollees. NTEU and its allies would like to eliminate this excise tax and protect the FEHBP.
Parity Between Parking/Transit Benefit Results in Almost Double Transit Subsidy
Separate legislation considered separately deals with tax extenders. This bill provides for permanent parity between parking and transit commuter benefits, making it retroactive to January 2015. The benefit would be capped at $250 per month for 2015 and $255 per month for 2016 for both parking and transit. On the transit benefit, federal employees in the Washington Mero area will be offered the $255 maximum benefit during 2016. Those outside the Washington area, and any retroactivity to 2015 for both DC and field employees depend upon agency policy and the collective bargaining agreement.
The tax extenders agreement establishes permanent parity between the transit and parking portions of the commuter benefit and make it retroactive to January 1 of this year. While the text of the legislation notes the monthly statutory cap will be raised to $175/month that does not reflect several years of COLAs which will set the 2015 cap at $250 per month for 2015 and $255 per month for 2016.
Last December, Congress included language in H.R. 5771, the “Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014” that reinstated the mass transit portion of the commuter benefit at the same level as the benefit for parking, at $250/month through the end of 2014. However, because Congress did not act to further extend the transit benefit beyond 2014, the transit portion of the commuter benefit dropped to $130/month on January 1 of this year.
The language in the tax extenders package would address this disparity by amending the tax code to establish permanent parity between the parking and transit portions of the transportation fringe benefit and setting the monthly caps for both at $250/month for 2015. Due to a cost-of-living increase, that amount will rise to $255/month in 2016.
NTEU appreciates Congress finally acting to provide permanent parity between the transit and parking benefits. Providing permanent parity between the two benefits will eliminate the uncertainty surrounding the transit monthly benefit cap and provide workers the certainty they need to permanently change the way they commute to more mass transit-friendly options.
For continuing information on the budget package, visit www.nteu.org.