The 2019 Trump Budget Proposal Affecting Retirees’ Future

(This article is credited to Thomas R. Benson, President of Lake Geauga Area Local 1204, Director of Veteran Affairs , OPWU)

The United States Postal Service at one time was one of the best federal jobs an individual could get. I can remember a time when a couple hundred applicants would come and take the civil service exam at one time hoping to land a job at the Post Office. The benefits we receive at the USPS are among the best in the country out of any employer. Those benefits such as retirement pension (30% of your high 3 years) , matching contributions to your TSP, to some of the best health insurance plans in the country, make the USPS a very good place to work and build a career. Over the years we have seen different administrations and congress try to cut many of these benefits we enjoy. Most recent attack comes from the 2019 Trump Budget Proposal.  The following information was researched and gleaned from several websites and other sources.

In the budget proposal the attacks on the employee and the benefits they enjoy come from several different angels. Let’s start with an increase to FERS contributions. For active federal and postal employees covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), the budget calls for gradually equalizing employee and agency payroll contributions for pension benefits. This would cut pay and raise our pension contributions by 1 percent of pay per year for up to six years.

Next the budget calls for reducing Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and FERS pension benefits for new retirees by basing annuities on workers’ highest average pay over five years (high-5) instead of over the highest three years (high-3). So to make this easier to understand, currently your “ pension “ from the USPS is based on your high 3 years. The budget would change that to your high 5 years.

For all retirees, the administration’s budget calls for eliminating or reducing cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). For current and future annuitants under FERS (which covers any employee hired after 1984), the budget would eliminate basic annuity COLAs entirely.

The administration is also said to be studying a policy to end the defined benefit portion of FERS for all new federal employees, leaving new employees with only the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), the defined contribution plan for FERS participants.

For both active and retired federal employees, the budget proposes decreasing the federal government’s contribution to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) to 65 to 75 percent, down from the current 72 to 75 percent range. The impact of the FEHBP proposal would be minimal in the near term, since contribution levels are set during contract negotiations. But this change would drive the Postal Service to continue to try to shift costs to employees during collective bargaining.

FERS employees are covered by a three-part retirement system – an annuity, Social Security, and the Thrift Savings Plan. Social Security benefits aren’t payable before age 62, there for law provides a bridge payment for FERS employees who retire before that age. It’s called the special retirement supplement. The Budget Proposal targets the Special Retirement Supplement and would be eliminated for those employees who retire before Social Security eligibility age.

These attacks aren’t new to the postal worker. They do happen rather frequently but most times we don’t hear too much about the fight as we had many in congress working with the National Unions. In the past, changes to federal employee pay and benefits excluded the postal worker. There has been this movement in the past few years to include the postal workers in all the governmental changes. Many in congress would like to see union representation taken out of government employment including the USPS. Often times I’ve heard members tell me how changes won’t affect them. I believe the changes that the 2019 Trump Budget Proposal will affect every employee whether newly hired or soon to retire.   The time has come that every APWU member needs to contact their legislators and demand that they keep their hands off our earned benefits.  This isn’t just about benefits, it’s about each and every employees livelihood.

USPS ‘Shirks Responsibility’ to PSEs

(This article first appeared in the Sept-Oct 2017 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

By Health Plan Director John Marcotte 

The APWU Health Plan receives complaints from members who were converted from Postal Support Employee (PSE) to career status and claim the USPS cancelled their health insurance without notification. My office deals with this situation as best as we can, but this is an issue that is the employer’s full responsibility.

The situation is unique for PSEs who have the USPS PSE health insurance, which is not part of the Federal Employee Health Benefit (FEHB) system. Upon conversion to career status, these employees are eligible for 60 days to sign up for FEHB health insurance plans. At the same time, the USPS determines that these employees are ineligible for their USPS PSE insurance and cancels their insurance.

My office is getting complaints from across the country that the USPS is not informing these new career conversions of their ability to sign up for FEHB health plans – and more importantly – that they are losing their USPS PSE coverage. Members are first becoming aware that they have no coverage while receiving medical care, being told they are uninsured!

This problem not only causes a gap in coverage between the date when the USPS plan was dropped and the start of their new FEHB insurance, but also means that if these unsuspecting members exceed the 60 days to sign up for career health insurance, they cannot sign up until the next open season or a “qualifying life event” – making their families uninsured that whole time.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) requires that the USPS give 61-day notice when cancelling health insurance. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires 30-day notice when health insurance is being cancelled. The USPS shirking its responsibility to notify APWU members that their health care is getting cancelled is inexcusable.

Consider the APWU CDO

I want you all to be aware of this gross injustice so we can educate our brothers and sisters who are being converted. This situation will not happen to any PSE who has the APWU Consumer Driven Option (CDO) because it is a FEHB health plan. The only change these new careers will notice is a drop in premiums when they attain career status – with NO gap in coverage.

While the APWU CDO provides superior health care coverage at a lower cost to our PSE families, this situation is yet another reason to ensure all PSEs who have been reappointed after a year learn about the advantages of signing up for the APWU CDO. PSEsare eligible for the APWU CDO upon reappointment after a 360-day appointment, with a break in service of no longer than five days. After they are eligible and if the 60-day window elapses for PSEs to sign up for the APWU CDO, they can still sign up after any qualifying life event or during the next open season after reappointment.