NASCOE Legislative Update – November 25, 2020

This legislative update provides our NASCOE family with information about hot topics as we enter the holiday season.

Federal Appropriations

Currently, the government is funded through December 11, 2020.  It is likely that Congress will extend the continuing resolution again before enactment of any new law.  We do not expect any government shutdown as Congress approaches the December deadline.

The House of Representatives has approved their Fiscal Year 2021 Agriculture Appropriations bill.  Following election day, the Senate released draft bills and reports allowing the two bodies to begin negotiating any final product. 

The House provides significant increases for FSA Salaries and Expenses and continues previous law provisions related to both employees and county office closures. The below information highlights important funding levels for both the House and Senate proposals.

Fiscal Year 2021 Proposed Funding Levels

FSA Business Center:

FY 2020 EnactedProposalsProposed FY 2021 vs
FY 2020 Enacted
$280,186,000House – $292,852,000House – + $12,666,000
 Senate – $293,057,000Senate – + $12,871,000

FSA Salaries and Expenses:

FY 2020 EnactedProposalsProposed FY 2021 vs
FY 2020 Enacted
$1,414,214,000House – $1,446,437,000House + $32,223,000
 Senate – $1,434,279,000Senate+ $20,065,000

2020 Election

While not yet official, we believe President-elect Biden will be sworn in next January as the 46th President of the United States. 

The election results have set off a scramble for cabinet level posts and numerous political appointments.  According to our contacts, the Secretary of Agriculture position is a race between former Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH).  These individuals know the importance of our organization and the role we play in delivering farm programs. We were pleased this summer when Congresswoman Fudge invited NASCOE’s President to lead a roundtable discussion regarding the need for additional County Office workers. We will keep you all updated as the transition team announces USDA political appointments.

In the House of Representatives, Democrats continue to watch their majority shrink.  At this point, the Democratic Party will control the body by about 13 seats.  This is a decrease from the 33-seat majority during the 116th Congress.  An important decision will come soon when Democrats choose who will lead the House Committee on Agriculture.  The race for chairmanship is between Congressman David Scott (D-GA) and Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA).  Today, Congressman Scott is considered the favorite and will likely be chosen the first week of December.

In the Senate, Republicans are defending two Georgia seats that most believe will remain in the Republican column.  If the two senators are re-elected on January 5th, Republicans will control the 52 – 48 Senate.  With Senate Pat Roberts (R-KS) retiring, we expect Senator John Boozman (R-AR) will be chosen as Chairman for the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Protecting Employees from Surprise Taxes Act of 2020, S. 4810

NASCOE sent a letter to Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) supporting legislation allowing federal employees to opt out of the payroll tax deferral. The legislation would simply allow employees to determine how the collection of taxes impacts their individual financial status. We have heard from employees preferring to not delay the tax bill until next year. This legislation provides the flexibility that would allow employees the opportunity to make the best decision based on their need for additional take home pay.

Conclusion

Please do not hesitate to reach out to our legislative team should you need additional information.

Our entire NASCOE Legislative Team would like to wish you all a HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

New NASCOE Position: Technology Coordinator

Our lives are increasingly affected by modern technologies that improve the way we live and work. Whether we are talking about communicating with others, tracking assignments, getting forms signed, sending and receiving funds, archiving documents, etc., the solution is now typically digital. At work we use instant messaging, online surveys, digital signatures and more. We rely on tools like SharePoint and GovDelivery. At home we increasingly go online or use apps on our phone to get our news, research issues, or even shop for our groceries.

NASCOE currently utilizes some of these measures, including hosting a website and sending bulletins through an email service. However, recently the Executive Committee has recognized that adopting more of these technologies would provide an opportunity to better conduct business and serve our members. Those technologies that we are using fall under the Webmaster position which is currently an ancillary duty for our Publicity Chair. These IT duties already take up a lot of time and adding new digital solution would be beyond challenging for any existing committee chair. Therefore, the Executive Committee is looking to establish a Technology Coordinator Position to help manage our existing infrastructure as well as assist in adopting various new digital solutions.

NASCOE has approximately 6000 members made up of a diverse group of people from all over the country. We know that many of you not only use these technologies daily, but some of you have detailed knowledge or experience in implementing them. Now is a great opportunity to assist NASCOE in improving or building key infrastructure that could assist your fellow members. Some potential responsibilities are listed below. This is a unique chance to help influence the creation of a national level position from the ground up. So if you have skills or even a passion in elements like web design, app management, database management, or any other IT solution, please reach out. Even if you are not interested in the Technology Coordinator position but possess these talents, please consider letting us know and volunteering.

In order to be considered, please send a brief introduction of yourself and your attributes, skills, and/or abilities to the NASCOE President at . NASCOE positions can take up a substantial amount of volunteer time, so please indicate your general availability.

Potential Responsibilities and Duties

  • Assist Executive Committee (EC) with questions and issues regarding access and use of NASCOE infrastructure. Examples include assisting with logging in, setting up meetings, troubleshooting errors, etc.
  • Implement automated NASCOE processes and forms
  • Develop and maintain cloud based repositories, such as OneDrive and SharePoint. This includes designing interfaces, educating users, and enforcing good IT policies
  • Create, maintain, and refresh a modernized and user-friendly website
  • Research beneficial technology for the association, makes recommendations to the EC, and works with contractors to implement as directed.

Qualifications

  • A passion or hobby for technology
  • Approachable and patient
  • Works well independently or as part of a team
  • An ability to prioritize and delegate
  • Problem-solving skills
  • A keen eye for detail

Download Flyer

Tech-Coordinator-Bulletin

Annual Leave Carryover

Greetings fellow NASCOE Members

  • This is your NASCOE President, Brandon Wilson coming to you from the farm where I’ve been using a little annual leave to help with harvest.
    • Things are definitely crazy around here…  we are harvesting soybeans and corn.  Also, we are planting wheat and moving cattle around.
    • Busy is good and I wouldn’t trade this mini-vacation for nothing.

And speaking of annual leave, we know many of you haven’t been able to take leave this year since you’ve been busy administering important programs such as: MFP2, ARC/PLC, Disaster Programs (such as WHIP, ECP, ELAP, LFP AND LIP) and acreage reporting.

  • MOST important however, has been your work on administering CFAP 1 & CFAP 2 during the national health emergency. 
  • This unexpected work was (and is) being administered in a very quick fashion because of your tireless efforts and extra time spent at work.  -your farmers and ranchers appreciate your efforts very much – and they thank you.

In addition, we’ve heard from many of you about the inability to use leave because of your dedicated time at work to administer these programs which are critical to the citizens of the United States. 

  • The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) realizes the predicament Federal employees face with use or lose leave. 
  • OPM has determined that a new benefit may apply to Federal employees who helped our nation during the national health emergency.  Agencies (such as USDA) can decide to allow some employees to carry more than 30 days of annual leave into calendar year 2021, provided they were unable to schedule that leave due to their work responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
    • If USDA decides to qualify COF employees, like you and me,  they will be able participate in a streamlined process for “essential” employees to carry over leave next year.  This streamlined process would mean we do not need to schedule leave in advance for it to be considered cancelled.
    • While we all agree that carrying over leave is not ideal and can create problems in the long run, we also know that 2020 was an unusual year AND we have earned leave and we have a right to take it.
  • NASCOE believes the FSA COF employees should have the opportunity to have this benefit- similar to other Federal employees in other agencies that helped provide relief. 
  • Furthermore, NASCOE agrees with OPM that agencies must let their employees know soon if they qualify for the leave carry over assistance benefit.  Employees would need to know IF their services have been designated as essential during the emergency employees so they can begin planning. 
  • NASCOE has urged management at USDA to not hesitate in designating FSA COF employees as essential during the health emergency.  It is key that they declare our work on COVID-19 relief an “exigency of the public business.” AND that they notify employees soon of this status so that employees can make leave plans.
  • Look for an announcement and information to come from FSA management on the status of leave carry over for FSA COF employees.  Additional reading on the subject can be found in the link contained in the video in the bottom in description: https://www.govexec.com/pay-benefits/2020/08/opm-outlines-process-restoring-leave-after-covid/167597/.

I’d like to close by saying “thank you again” for your support of NASCOE.  Your support empowers the NASCOE team to make sure that you get the benefits you deserve.

I hope to see you all again very soon.  Good night.

Continuing Resolution Vote

Clint Bain and Neil Burnette
NASCOE Legislative Co-Chairs
September 23, 2020

By a vote of 359 to 57, last night the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan stopgap continuing resolution to keep the government open through December 11, 2020.

The bill provides 30 billion in funding for the Commodity Credit Corporation to replenish depleted funds. Also included in the measure was nearly 8 billion for a variety of food nutrition assistance including funding to feed children affected by the pandemic that normally receive school lunches.

The deal was worked out between House Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. The Senate is expected to schedule a vote on the bill prior to funding expiring on September 30th. The White House has indicated that President Trump will sign the bill.

President Trump’s Executive Order (EO) Deferring the Payroll Tax

Clint Bain and Neil Burnette Legislative Co-Chairs
Hunter Moorhead, Legislative Consultant

On August 8th, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) that defers the payroll tax (OASDI deductions) from September 1 to December 31.  The President’s actions define eligibility as employees earning less than $100,000 per year.  Following the announcement, both government and private sector employees have questioned the benefit of deferring payroll taxes. As of today, employees and employers expect the tax will be collected next calendar year. 

For those impacted, this opportunity will lead to higher take-home pay. Critics of the tax deferral have said that it simply amounts to pushing off the taxes into early next year—when employees may have forgotten that they are required to repay the benefit.  IRS guidance issued last week states that affected employees will have to repay the suspended payments by April 30, 2021—although there will be no interest or penalties charged for repaying on time—unless Congress waives the obligation. 

For now, our NASCOE family needs to plan appropriately assuming the short-term tax benefit will be repaid next year. 

Can federal employees opt out of the deferral? The National Finance Center (NFC) released information announcing system modifications to the payroll system effective for pay period 17.  The Department has indicated that they are currently researching the possibility of employees having the option to opt out. We expect FSA employees to see the additional funds in their bank account when pay period 17 is disbursed.  The elimination of the withholding will vary by employee by PP, based upon any changes in their gross social security wages.

Do we expect Congress will approve legislation waiving repayment of the deferred taxes? Trump’s memo anticipated that the obligation would be waived, but there has been strong bipartisan opposition in Congress toward a waiver and no move toward it.

The NASCOE legislative team will monitor any movement of legislation by Congress regarding this tax deferral.

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. 

2020 NASCOE Convention Update

Greetings NASCOE Members,

As you are likely aware, the NASCOE Board of Directors recently met via conference call.  The sole item of business was to consider how we should move forward with the 2020 National Convention in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.  NASCOE finds itself in an unprecedented situation and the safety of our members and partners must be our number one concern.  Additionally, NASCOE also has an obligation to limit the potential liability to our association.  After much consideration, the Board of Directors voted to cancel the 2020 National Convention in Savannah, GA.  This decision was not taken lightly, and we want to personally thank all the individual Board members (two from each state) for their preparation, diligence, and careful weighing of the choices. 

NASCOE’s National Convention is primarily our annual business meeting.  While we won’t able to conduct that face-to-face this year, we still plan on having an annual meeting in some fashion.  Research has begun on alternatives to allow us to have a virtual meeting.  The alternatives would facilitate our elections, area breakouts, committee updates, and as many of the business functions of the convention as possible.  We’ll be engaging membership in how best to accomplish this and welcome your suggestions.

One can hardly count all the benefits that NASCOE brings, but fellowship and community are toward the top of the list.  We know that it is disappointing that we won’t be able to see each other, share stories and enjoy each other’s company.  However, these challenges won’t last forever and before you know it, we’ll all be together in Fort Wayne, IN for the 2021 convention.  We will also get to experience the hospitality of Georgia, as they will now host us in Savannah in 2022.

Thank you all for everything you do and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or comments.

Sincerely,

Rick Csutoras and Curt Houk
National Convention Co-Chairs