Emergency Paid Leave Concerns

By Brandon Wilson, NASCOE President
May 26, 2021

Recently you may have heard that the new Emergency Paid Leave (EPL) provisions contained in the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) do not apply to County Office (CO) employees.  NASCOE has been working to address this issue for some time and shares the concern of members regarding this benefit not being equally available to CO employees.

Historically, through the labor management agreement, NASCOE has requested that USDA allow CO employees the opportunity to enjoy benefits like those provided for GS employees by Federal law.  USDA has normally responded to those requests favorably such as they did in the fall of 2020 by allowing CO employees access to the Paid Parental Leave benefit. 

The EPL benefit provides paid leave to covered Federal (GS) employees when they are unable to work due to certain COVID-19 situations.  Although this is a great benefit, it is important to note that when this leave is used, it will be reduced from the total service used to calculate Federal civilian annuity retirement benefits.

While in negotiations with USDA regarding this benefit, it was brought to NASCOE’s attention that USDA’s Office of General Counsel believes they cannot grant EPL benefits to CO employees.  ARPA language defined eligible employees as those individuals “for whom annual and sick leave is provided under subchapter I of chapter 63 of title 5, United States Code.”  The USDA Office of General Counsel says County employees do not meet this definition, as their annual and sick leave is provided under Title 7. 

Moving forward, NASCOE remains in discussions with USDA about rectifying outstanding concerns associated with allowing the leave to be available for CO employees.  In addition, the NASCOE Executive Committee will examine demand for this benefit and consider other proposals for similar CO COVID-19 leave alternatives. 

Rest assured, NASCOE leadership fully understands how important new benefits, as well as all our existing benefits, are to each of you.  NASCOE is committed to tirelessly fighting for them on your behalf no matter how long it takes.  We cannot do it alone and appreciate the support of membership as we work to ensure that you continue to have the same privileges that other GS employees enjoy. 

NASCOE Benefits Update – Complimentary Retirement Analysis

Dear NASCOE Members,

The unavailability of the retirement calculator for retirees has left a backlog of employees needing retirement benefits calculated and analyzed.  The NASCOE benefits provider is helping by offering the same calculation services to our members with their software.  This is a complimentary service for NASCOE members, so please reach out to them to obtain a calculation and analysis of your retirement benefits.  You can call 1-800-692-7643 or email them at .

New NASCOE Member Benefit: ABCmouse and Adventure Academy

In our continued efforts to provide valuable benefits, we have partnered with Age of Learning to provide their flagship programs, ABCmouse and Adventure Academy to our membership.

During these trying times with COVID and remote learning, ABCMouse and
Adventure Academy is a great way to supplement your children’s education. Members will receive a 74% discount for both programs on the full monthly price for the first two months. After that, the price is just $9.95/month for ABC Mouse and $9.99/month for Adventure Academy until cancelled.

Please visit https://nascoe.org/benefits/ for more information about this benefit and how to sign up.

New Benefit for NASCOE Members

In our continued efforts to provide valuable benefits, we have partnered with Allstate Identity Protection to bring you Allstate Identity Protection Pro. 

Your identity is made up of more than your Social Security number and credit score. That’s why they do more than monitor your credit reports. They help you look after your online activity, from financial transactions to what you share on social media — so you can protect the trail of data you leave behind.

Introducing the next evolution in identity protection. For over 85 years, they’ve been protecting what matters most. Now they’re providing protection from a wide range of identity threats, so you can keep loving what technology adds to your life.

NASCOE members can receive identity theft protection for $7.95 per person / month or $13.95 per family / month.

With Allstate Identity Protection Pro you’ll be able to

  • Check your identity health score
  • View and manage alerts in real time
  • Monitor your TransUnion credit score and report for fraud
  • Receive alerts for cash withdrawals, balance transfers, and large purchases
  • Get reimbursed in the event of fraud with our $1 million identity theft insurance policy

Protect yourself and your family (everyone that’s “under your roof and wallet”).

Members who would like to enroll in coverage through payroll deduction, can simply call Benefits Direct to speak with a benefit counselor at (877) 523-0176.

NASCOE fights for Paid Parental Leave Benefit

Recently NASCOE leadership has been answering lots of questions about paid parental leave and the applicability of that benefit for FSA County Office (CO) employees.  The National Defense Authorization Act (Bill S-1790) which funded parts of the federal government for fiscal year 2020 was recently passed and provides up to 12 weeks per 12-month period of paid parental leave available under the Family and Medical Leave Act for Federal employees.  This new leave is effective for births, adoptions or foster placements beginning October 1st of this year.  Unfortunately, this legislation did not extend the entitlement benefit to include FSA CO personnel.  Specifically, the employees hired and supervised by County Committees established under Section 590h(b) of Title 16.

Background

Many of the recent Paid Parental Leave questions received by NASCOE leadership center around why FSA CO employees aren’t included in the benefit.  The answer to that question is best explained by the background of the County Committee and the origins of NASCOE. 

Historically, the civil service was created in the late 1800’s to staff agencies newly created by Congress.  These employees now go by the nomenclature Federal, General Schedule (GS), or Title 5 employees.  Later, during the depression, when creating new farm and food security legislation, Congress was looking for an alternative to the typical federal program delivery system.   Congress wanted a new delivery method which provided a system of local credibility so that farmers and ranchers would “buy-in” to new agricultural support programs.  To that end, Congress created the County Committee (COC) system, designed to be an alternative system of government that farmers and ranchers could trust.  Legislation also allowed those same COC’s to hire staff, which includes the modern day CED and PT.  COC’s and their staff are considered Title 7, County Office (CO), or non-Federal employees, who are governed by the Department of Agriculture and not the Office of Personnel Management.

CO and GS employees, working side by side in USDA Service Centers, have many things in common including pay scales, leave earning, health/life insurance, work schedules, and more.  In recent memory, USDA has generally mirrored CO benefits to match the guidance that OPM gives for GS employees.  However, this hasn’t always been the case.  For much of our history, USDA GS employees who offered conservation and credit programs enjoyed salary, health, and retirement benefits while CO employees down the hall were working for a minimum wage with no benefits.  This was obviously a major disparity between two groups of employees who perform similar work for the same customer base.

In 1959, to correct the inequity of benefits, our predecessor CO employees voluntarily banded together to create NASCOE.  NASCOE is designed to improve working conditions and advocate for the profession of the CO employee.  Throughout its history, NASCOE has been responsible for obtaining and ensuring the continuation of annual leave, sick leave, health insurance, retirement, relocation benefits, within grade increases, annual cost of living adjustments, leave transfer & and other benefits for FSA CO employees.  NASCOE also works annually to obtain adequate levels of funding for agency salaries and expenses.  These benefits and supplemental funding have been attained through NASCOE working directly with USDA or the Congress.  In the spirit of equality, USDA and the Congress has answered previous requests by granting requested benefits to FSA CO employees.   Added benefits for CO employees are greatly enjoyed by the FSA non-federal workforce.  It is hard to imagine what a modern-day FSA workspace would look like if CO employees didn’t have the same benefits as other federal employees in the office.

Moving Forward

History repeats itself and once again we are looking at a situation where there is a disparity between GS and CO benefits.  In this case, the new benefit is paid parental leave.  FSA CO employees make up the majority of USDA’s field office staff who provide federal benefits to American farmers and ranchers.  NASCOE believes the ability of employees to take paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child can’t be overstated.  The absence of the paid parental leave would be detrimental to the morale and functionality of those employees who are starting or expanding their families.  

A request has been sent to the Department from NASCOE, asking for Paid Parental Leave to be granted to CO employees on October 1, just as it is for GS employees.  Again, this is historically how NASCOE has obtained other benefits such as annual leave and sick leave.  Additionally, while NASCOE fully expects USDA to grant this benefit to CO employees, we believe the exclusion of CO employees by Congress was an inadvertent oversight.  Therefore, NASCOE also intends to request Congress grant Paid Parental Leave as a benefit for all FSA CO employees. 

Rest assured, NASCOE leadership fully understands how important Paid Parental Leave, as well as all our existing benefits, are to each of you and we are committed to tirelessly fighting for them on your behalf, no matter how long it takes.  Obviously, we can’t do it alone and so we appreciate the support of membership as we work to ensure that you continue to have the same privileges that other GS employees enjoy. 

Join NASCOE – Get a Gift Card – Promotion Ends 07/31/2020

NASCOE has partnered with Emblems by Superior to offer a $25 gift card to any fulltime FSA employee who joins NASCOE for the first time between now and July 31, 2020. Emblems by Superior offers USDA apparel and 15% of all sales goes to the scholarship fund.

Membership in NASCOE begins at the state association level. When an employee joins their state association, they are automatically joining NASCOE. Please take a moment to help us increase our membership by reaching out to employees in your state that aren’t currently members and ask them to consider joining.

Redeeming the $25 gift offer is easy! Upon completion of a membership application and FSA-444, State Presidents, State Membership Chairs or the new member simply needs to email the new employee’s name, home address and home email address to National Benefits-Emblems Chair, Chris Lary.

After requesting the offer, new members should expect to receive the offer code and instructions on how to use the code at their home email address.
#NASCOE
#JoinToday
#EmblemsbySuperior
#Scholarships
#FSACountyOfficeEmployees

Chris Lary, NASCOE Benefits-Emblems Chair

Buy Emblems – Save Money and Fund Scholarships!

Emblems by Superior has been our official provider of quality apparel and accessories for NASCOE since 2015.  Please check out the current selection of items at the NASCOE Emblems Store online at https://nascoe.org/store/.  

Did you know that you can custom order shirts for meetings, conferences or any other events you are having?  Reach out to Mike & Denise Hamilton and they will be happy to assist you with creating custom t-shirt designs, supplying USDA merchandise for your meetings, or simply personalizing your items by embroidering your name on them.

Having a state training, meeting, or convention?  Reach out to Emblems by Superior for your Emblems needs.  They will ship items to your training site at no charge–you sell what you can and then return the items not sold (you only pay return shipping). Folks can place pre-orders online and they will ship with the Emblems merchandise at no additional shipping fee.  Contact Emblems by Superior for details.

The Hamilton’s and I have been working on ideas to get USDA apparel in your hands at a great price.  We are going to continue to run a monthly special. Want to know what that item is and what the code is to receive it at a discount? Please go to Facebook and like Emblems by Superior.  Also, email Superior at  and request to be added to their mailing list.  

Over 35 new items have been added to your NASCOE website. This is just in time for the Black Friday Week Sale which is going on right now through midnight Sunday, December 1, 2019.

Remember, a portion of all sales go to the NASCOE scholarship fund!!

A New Benefit for NASCOE Members!

Dear Members of NASCOE,

In our continual dedicated efforts to always serve our members with maximum value we are excited to announce that we have just partnered with LiveStreamingFitness.com as our “official” online healthy lifestyle resource!

Why did we do this? Because you and your family matter to us! We believe that every one of you should have affordable access to resources like fitness, nutrition and cooking to serve you and your family in living your healthiest life. LiveStreamingFitness.com is an on-line healthy lifestyle platform that includes live streaming and on demand fitness, nutrition and cooking shows available 24/7 in a safe and interactive community of professionals and individuals promoting the best version of a healthy you.

On top of that, WE NEGOTIATED ON YOUR BEHALF…a membership like this normally costs $99 per year. For only $49 per year, with your NASCOE promo code**, you will have full access to these amazing resources! Also, get EXTRA FREE MONTHS if you hurry and enroll before December 1st; your membership will be valid through the entirety of 2020!

**Get the NASCOE Program Code from your state Benefits Chair

Check out the information below to enroll and let’s get started living our healthiest lives together!

NASCOE Legislative Update – Federal Retirement

Below is a legislative update from Hunter Moorhead, NASCOE Legislative Consultant, with information on the House and Senate actions regarding federal retirement benefits and other budget actions. Please distribute widely to membership:


The US Senate has completed Committee consideration of the 2018 Budget Resolution. I’m pleased to report that it doesn’t include language impacting Federal retirement benefits. The full Senate is expected next week to consider the Committee’s budget resolution.  Following adoption by the full Senate, House and Senate negotiators will conference the two resolutions. At that point, the House will insist on including the retirement cuts and the provision will be negotiated between the two bodies.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

President’s Budget:

On May 23rd, 2017, President Trump announced the Administration’s proposed FY 2018 budget request. In this request are proposals to make significant changes to the Federal Employees Retirement System and the Civil Service Retirement System. Included in the changes are:

  • Cost-of-living allowances for current and future FERS retirees eliminated.
  • COLAS for CSRS retirees would be reduced by 0.5 percent each year.
  • FERS employees would see employee contributions to their annuities increased by one percent each year for the next six years, without any corresponding benefit increase.
  • The FERS annuity supplement would be eliminated for new retirees starting in 2018.
  • Federal pensions would be based on the average of the highest five years of salary instead of the highest three.

Following the President’s FY 2018 request, the CBO argued that these changes would better align federal practices with those in the private sector through:

  • Basing pensions on five-year average earnings.
  • Many employers not offering health insurance benefits for retirees.
  • Many companies shifting from lifetime annuities to defend contribution plans that require smaller contributions from employers.

However, the CBO also noted that these changes would lessen the attractiveness of the overall compensation package provided by the federal government, potentially affecting the ability to attract and retain a highly-qualified workforce. Additionally, under the President’s proposed changes, positions requiring professional and advanced degrees may become harder to fill, private-sector counterparts already provide a higher compensation to comparable federal government positions.

Under the current budget circumstances and within the current political situation, it will be difficult for the President’s proposed changes to become reality. The President’s budget request is the first step in a long process to actually forming the budget.

House Budget:

On July 19th, 2017, the House Budget Committee approved their FY 2018 Budget 22-14. At this time, the House of Representatives has not yet scheduled floor or full House consideration of their Committee proposal.  However, Speaker Ryan has publicly stated that the House will consider the budget in September.

The House FY 2018 budget instructions dictate that the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to submit changes in laws within its jurisdiction sufficient to reduce the deficit by $32 billion for the period of fiscal years 2018 through 2027. The House FY 2018 budget includes measures affecting changes to federal government retirement practices, including ending the supplement only for future retirees, how much to raise the required contribution, over how long a period, and whether it would apply to all employees, to reach this required $32 billion savings over the next 10 years.

The Budget committee report includes the language, “Reform Civil Service Pensions. The policy describes in the Income Support, Nutrition, and Related Programs section of this report would increase the share of Federal retirement benefits funded by the employee. This policy has the effect of reducing the personnel costs for the employing agency. The budget assumes savings from a reduction in agency appropriations associated with the reduction in payments that agencies make into the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund for Federal employee retirement.”

Additionally, the Report includes the following policy statement on the same, “Reform Civil Service Pensions. This budget adopts a policy proposed by former President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility. The policy calls for Federal employees, including members of Congress and staff, to make greater contributions toward their own defined benefit retirement plans. It would also end the ‘‘special retirement supplement,’’ which pays Federal employees the equivalent of their Social Security benefit at an earlier age. This would achieve significant savings while recognizing the need for new Federal employees to transition to a defined contribution retirement system. The vast majority of private sector employees participate in defined contribution retirement plans. These plans put the ownership, flexibility, and portfolio risk on the employee as opposed to the employer. Similarly, Federal employees would have more control over their own retirement security under this option. President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget calls for a phased-in increase to contributions federal employees pay into the Federal Employee Retirement System so that both employees and the government are contributing an equal amount.”

And finally, the Report encourages limiting Federal Health Coverage Funding for federal employees. It states, “currently, Federal contributions to the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program grow by the average weighted rate of change in these programs. This budget supports restricting the growth in these plans to inflation. It also proposes restricting Federal employees’ retirement benefits based on length of service, which would bring Federal benefits in line with the private sector model.”

Thanks,

Jackson Jones & Donny Green,
NASCOE Legislative Co-Chairpersons