NASCOE News Flash – January 20, 2019

Dennis Ray, NASCOE President

Fellow NASCOE Members,

NASCOE leadership believes it is possible that all County Office Employees may be called back as “excepted” employees.  Excepted employees would be required to perform limited duties if approved by OMB and to work without pay until shutdown ends. The negative employee impacts that are the most concerning to NASCOE are the potential loss of unemployment benefits and the loss of the ability to utilize outside employment to make ends meet.

NASCOE fully understands that the negative impacts of the current agricultural economy are compounded by the additional loss of FSA benefits.  While NASCOE is sympathetic to the burdens our farmers face, NASCOE cannot support sacrificing the financial security of Farm Service Agency County Office Employees by subjecting them to a callback without pay.

As fellow employees, we are dealing with the same financial stress and fully understand the situations that employees are facing.  NASCOE is in constant communication with Administration leadership in an effort to discuss ways to minimize the impact on FSA employees.

NASCOE is deeply concerned that the callback could force some employees to leave the agency and force others to make the decision to retire. These actions will have a negative long-term impact on FSA’s ability to provide quality service to our producers when they need us the most. Trained, experienced and committed employees who leave the agency will not be easily replaced.

NASCOE has been very disappointed in the lack of clear direction and instructions from the very beginning of this historic furlough.  NASCOE has diligently made an effort to keep members up to date. Keep in mind this is not official notification.  As details continue to emerge, NASCOE will be sharing information with our membership as quickly as possible.  Please continue to look for email correspondence and website updates with the latest news from NASCOE.

NASCOE Legislative News Flash – Update on Update on Furloughed Employee Benefits Legislation

As we approach the 30-day mark in the Government Shutdown, federal employees are feeling more repercussions and stress due in large part to the absence of a full pay check and the overall uncertainty of when the government will reopen.  It is our desire to communicate with NASCOE’s members to the maximum extent to provide accurate and timely information.

In this report, we hope to provide information pertaining to available benefits, proposed legislation, as well as recently passed legislation regarding our pay and benefits during this shutdown. We want to express our appreciation to Clint Bain, Southeast Area Legislative Chairperson assigned benefits legislation, for compiling the following information in this report.

2018 W-2s are available on the Employee Personal Page
NFC is in the process of mailing out tax year 2018 W-2s. The mailing process will continue through Thursday, January 31, 2019.  Of the approximately 705,000
W-2s to be issued, all but about 9,000 are expected to be available on the Employee Personal Page (EPP).  If an employee’s W-2 is not there, they are among the 9,000 in suspense and will require manual intervention by NFC.  As they are released from suspense, they will be mailed and updated to EPP and the reporting center.


Presidential Signed Legislation

2019 Government Employee Fair Treatment Act
The President signed into law on Wednesday, January 16, 2019 the Act that will allow all federal employees who have been furloughed to receive back pay once the government has been funded. It also specifies that federal payroll providers begin to process checks as soon as the lapse in appropriations ends, regardless of the next scheduled pay date.  While furloughed government employees do not accrue leave, Congress and the President have authorized a retroactive accrual of leave in the Jan. 16 back pay bill.

Sponsor: Sen. Cardin, Benjamin L. [D-MD] (Introduced 01/03/2019)
Latest Action: 01/16/2019 Signed by President.  
Roll Call Votes: There has been 1 roll call vote




Proposed Legislation

Financial Relief for Feds Act (H.R. 545)
This piece of legislation if passed will allow Federal Employees to withdraw money from their TSP account without penalty.  The Financial Relief for Feds Act allows furloughed federal employees, “essential” federal employees working without pay to make a withdrawal from their retirement savings accounts without the 10% penalty that normally applies. That includes not only Thrift Savings Plans (TSP) but also accounts such as IRAs. Individuals will be able to make multiple withdrawals from their retirement accounts without penalty and will be allowed to recontribute the money to their accounts once the government reopens.

Sponsor: Rep. Olson, Pete [R-TX-22] (Introduced 01/15/2019)
Committees: House – Ways and Means; Oversight and Reform
Latest Action: House – 01/15/2019 Referred to the Committee on Ways and Means, and in addition to the Committee on Oversight and Reform, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned.

To provide loans to employees of the Federal Government and the government of the District of Columbia affected by a Government shutdown, and for other purposes (H.R. 657) introduced by Representative T.J. Cox, D- California
This piece of legislation willgive Federal employees access to a $6,000 loan which would be withdrawn from their pay check once government has reopened.

Sponsor: Rep. Cox, TJ [D-CA-21] (Introduced 01/17/2019) Cosponsors: (84)
Committees: House – Oversight and Reform
Latest Action: House – 01/17/2019 Referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

The End Government Shutdown Act (S. 104) introduced by Senator Rob Portman, R-OH
This piece of legislation will allow government to run on previous spending levels, an automatic continuing resolution, in the event Congress fails to approve a spending package. 

Sponsor:Sen. Portman, Rob [R-OH] (Introduced 01/10/2019) Cosponsors: (10)
Committees: Senate – Appropriations
Latest Action: Senate – 01/10/2019 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Appropriations.

The Government Shutdown Prevention Act (S. 147) introduced by Senator Rand Paul, R-KY
Would prevent government shutdowns by keeping the government open but instituting a one-percent cut to then-current funding levels for any agency, program, and activity that Congress failed to fund by the start of the fiscal year (October 1). Funding would be reduced by another one percent every 90 days thereafter that an agreement is still not enacted.

Sponsor:Sen. Paul, Rand [R-KY] (Introduced 01/16/2019) Cosponsors: (2)
Committees: Senate – Appropriations
Latest Action:Senate – 01/16/2019 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Appropriations.

The Federal Employee Civil Relief Act
Would prohibit landlords and debt collectors from taking action against federal employees unable to pay their bills because of the shutdown.

Sponsor: Sen. Schatz, Brian [D-HI] (Introduced 01/09/2019)
Committees: Senate – Finance
Latest Action: Senate – 01/09/2019 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.

NASCOE fully understands the concerns of FSA employees and we will continue to do our best to serve our membership by providing factual and timely communications as developments in this situation occur.

NASCOE News Flash – January 15, 2019

The past few days have been very active in preparation of a temporary limited employee call back. This has been a very fluid process and plans have been modified multiple times. Below is the most current information NASCOE has been able to obtain. Also listed below is the latest information regarding situations where a partial paycheck for PP26 was not received.

1. The employee “call back” is intended to protect FSA collateral and assets and to close out 2018 FLP business so that accurate 1099’s can be provided to producers timely.

2. There are a limited number (2500) of employees approved to work during this temporary call back. Original list sent in exceeded this number and states had to cut back.

3. SED’s had the ability to determine who would be called in using this emergency authority. There hasn’t been any consistency from state to state on how that was determined.

4. Employees will be working under the “excepted” status meaning they will not be paid until the shutdown is resolved.

5. This is not expected to be a recurring process at this time .

6. Deadlines for various programs will have to be reviewed once the shutdown is resolved.

7. A communication package announcing the limited availability of staff is being developed and will be provided to states. The National Office and State Offices will deliver this communication to the public.

8. Time spent at work will have a limited scope of approved activity, mainly focusing on FLP, MAL and FSFL servicing. County Offices will be approved for intermittent/incidental activities, meaning they will be able to accept documents for other programs from producers but will not be able to process anything.

9. The initial NFC PAYE salary sweep paid about 90% of the employees that were due a partial payment. They are continuing to run sweep to get the remaining 10% paid. An employee shared this response from the FPAC Business Center regarding not getting paid.

“FPAC HRD had almost all of its exempt employees validating and certifying PP26 T&A’s last week. We were able to get just over 90% certified before the last run of PAYE on Friday. We have been and will continue to run reports and use them to continue to get T&A’s certified. Getting employees paid is always our top priority.”

Dennis Ray
NASCOE President

NASCOE Shutdown Furlough Page Updated January 10, 2019

As noted in President Dennis Ray’s update of Friday, January 4, 2019, a Shutdown Furlough Information page has been created on the NASCOE website. The Furlough Information page will be updated throughout the shutdown as NASCOE leadership receives information.  The page is NOT intended to replace agency guidance, but will accumulate information received by NASCOE Leadership regarding the shutdown and furlough. The button can be accessed at www.nascoe.org.

Members are asked to refer any questions to their state association President, who will forward to NASCOE leadership through the Area Executives.

Information that has been updated / added to this page:

  • National Finance Center Bulletin – Employee Personal Page (EPP) Password Resets During the Government Shutdown.

To view this information and other previously acquired information, please visit the Shutdown Furlough information page on the NASCOE website.

The page may also be accessed directly at:
https://nascoe.org/furlough-guidance-for-nascoe-members/

If you haven’t done so already, please follow the NASCOE website by visiting www.nascoe.org and entering your home email address in the “Follow blog by email” box.  On Facebook, enter @NASCOENews in the search box to find and “Like” the Nascoe News page.

NASCOE News Flash — PP26 Concerns

Dennis Ray, NASCOE President

Good evening everyone,

I received the email below a few minutes ago from Deputy Administrator of Field Operations in WDC.  The email was distributed to state offices earlier today and addresses PP 26 concerns. 

Dennis Ray
NASCOE President





SEDs/AOs/EOs –

Guidance was emailed to FSA State and County level staff this morning by the FPAC Business Center.  We have had several questions related to the ‘Partial Exempt Employees’ portion of this document and how it relates to FSA CO non-federal employees.  As you are aware FSA CO non-federal employees were funded for the first week of pp 26 and on ‘furlough’ for the second week of pp 26.  Prior to shutting down, FSA CO non-federal employees were directed to complete their work-hours for the first week of pp 26, but not to input anything in WebTA for the second week of pp 26. 

At this time, despite confusion with the interpretation of the attached T&A Submission Guidance, FSA CO non-federal employees should NOT be accessing the WebTA system or loading any transaction codes (TC) into their T&As.  No action is needed by FSA CO non-federal employees, their supervisors, local timekeepers or State master timekeepers for pp 26.  FPAC-BC-HRD staff is taking necessary actions to complete PP 26 coding and processing for FSA CO non-federal employees.  It is our understanding that FSA CO non-federal employees will be paid, via NFC, for their work-hours the first week of pp 26 and it is anticipated this will occur within the normal payroll cycle.

Thank you,

Peggy S. Browne

Deputy Administrator of Field Operations
USDA FSA

*New* Furlough Information Page

As noted in President Dennis Ray’s update of Friday, January 4, 2019, a Shutdown Furlough Information page has been created on the NASCOE website. The page is NOT intended to replace agency guidance, but will accumulate information received by NASCOE Leadership regarding the shutdown and furlough. The button can be accessed at www.nascoe.org.

Information that is referenced on this page includes:

  • Link to the Office of Personnel Management website
  • OPM’s Shutdown Furlough Guidance Page
  • FAQs on Emergency Furlough
  • Department of Labor resources on Unemployment Benefits
  • SF-8 Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees form with USDA Information
  • USDA Ops Center Website
  • All NASCOE Communications on Shutdown and Furlough

The page may also be accessed directly at:
https://nascoe.org/furlough-guidance-for-nascoe-members/

The Furlough Information page will be updated throughout the shutdown as NASCOE leadership receives information.  Members are asked to refer any questions to their state association President, who will forward to NASCOE leadership through the Area Executives.

If you haven’t done so already, please follow the NASCOE website by visiting www.nascoe.org and entering your home email address in the “Follow blog by email” box.  On Facebook, enter @NASCOENews in the search box to find and “Like” the Nascoe News page.

NASCOE News Flash – NASCOE President Update, January 4, 2019

Hello Everyone,

As we go into the weekend without a resolution to the shutdown, our legislative Consultant Hunter Moorhead, has provided an update on where the process is currently. You should be receiving that soon if you haven’t already.  

NASCOE appreciates the answers shared by FSA leadership and the Business Center to questions we submitted last week as the shutdown began, however we know that many questions remain.  While there isn’t much new information to pass on, we will try to share what we know.

  • PP 26 pay status.  Information provided last week indicated that PP 26 would process on schedule for the time the agency was funded.  As of right now we have not received guidance on the logistics of how that will work.
  • The FAQ document provided in the email from the Secretary’s Office has some good information.  If you did not forward that to your home email, a copy of it will be posted to the NASCOE webpage.
  • NASCOE will continue to monitor both congressional and departmental developments.  Hopefully there will be more information to share soon.
  • The NASCOE webpage is being updated to include links to the OPM webpage that contains information on the lapse in funding, including information on unemployment resources. Since each state is different NASCOE will provide the link from OPM as opposed to trying the provide specific answers.
  • The NASCOE webpage is in the process of adding a page devoted to furlough and shutdown information. That should be done by the morning of January 5th and our publicity chair will send out an update when that page is live.

As we wait for further guidance, please continue to send your questions up through your state presidents and area execs.  We will forward those questions to leadership for their review and response. As unusual as this shutdown has been, answers are difficult to come by. As mentioned above the NASCOE webpage will post all available information so please follow www.nascoe.org for the latest updates.

Dennis Ray, NASCOE President

NASCOE Legislative Committee FY19 Appropriations Update–January 4, 2019

January 4, 2019
Appropriations Update
Hunter Moorhead, Legislative Consultant

Another week has passed without an agreement to reopen the federal government. The President hosted a meeting today with Congressional Leadership to discuss how to fund border security wall and reopen the government. While folks believe progress was made, the government will remain closed into next week. The below text outlines the public conversation between negotiators. In addition, the House Appropriations Committee today introduced disaster legislation. As you all know, we will provide information should the President or Congress announce any deal to reopen the federal government. 

Following Meeting with President Trump

Speaker Pelosi:

  • We will continue talking
  • We cannot resolve the issue until the government reopens
  • We are committed to defending the country and our constitution

Schumer:

  • Don’t hold millions of Americans hostage…open the government and continue the discussions
  • President resisted…said he would keep the government closed for months or years
  • Must open the government

Press – Progress on a dollar figure?

  • Pelosi – we made some progress on the negotiations

Trump:

  • Incredible job growth…factories are moving back to the US…312,000 jobs
  • Productive meeting – Pelosi and Schumer…on the same path
  • Additional meetings this weekend
  • Border Patrol laid out the problem
  • You see people entering where we don’t have walls…officer shot and killed
  • Ports of entry have walls…these people go to the weakest part…some walking
  • Wall in CA is working
  • Built by US Steel Companies
  • Team will work over the weekend
  • We are 5.6 billion…may add other items

Pence:

  • Two weeks into the shutdown…crisis on the border
  • Everyday 2,000 people are stopped trying to enter the country
  • Trump provided the leadership American people expect…committed to build a wall on the southern border
  • Pence, Kushner and Secretary Nielsen will lead the weekend negotiations

McCarthy:

  • Two hour productive meeting
  • President needs border security and the government open
  • We will get this done

House Appropriations Committee
Emergency Disaster Appropriations bill

Title I – Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies

Agricultural Programs — $1.1 billion. Payments for crop and livestock losses due to hurricanes, typhoons, volcanic activities, or wildfires during 2018. 

Emergency Forest Restoration Program — $480 million.  Assistance to owners of private forests to restore disaster-damaged forests. 

Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations — $125 million. Financial and technical assistance to states and local sponsors to protect and restore watersheds up to 250,000 acres.

Rural Community Facilities Program — $150 million.  Grants for facilities to provide health care, education, public safety, and public services to rural communities.

Nutrition Assistance Program for Puerto Rico — $600 million.  Additional funding to continue disaster nutrition benefits in Puerto Rico during its recovery from Hurricane Maria. 

Nutrition Assistance Program for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) — $10.2 million.  Additional funding for nutrition benefits in CNMI following typhoons in September and October.

In addition —

  • Provide trade mitigation assistance through the Market Facilitation Program to producers who derive at least 75 percent of their adjusted gross income from farming, ranching, or forestry related activities.

§ Provide trade mitigation assistance through the Market Facilitation Program to producers who derive at least 75 percent of their adjusted gross income from farming, ranching, or forestry related activities.

Furlough Update – December 28, 2018

Dennis Ray, NASCOE President

Many questions still remain about the furlough and how to proceed. I have just received the following information from the FPAC Business Center and FSA leadership.

Dennis Ray
NASCOE President

  1. Coding time — The county employees should code their timesheets for days worked, holidays on December 24 and December 25, as well as any leave taken between December 26 and December 28 before the furlough which takes effect at close of business on December 28. Once we have guidance from the Department’s Office of Human Resources Management and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) regarding timesheet coding for the furlough days, we will provide guidance from the FPAC Human Resources Division. Keep in mind there may be legislation enacted to pay employees for the days they were furloughed.
  2. Retirements — Per OPM regulations, regardless of whether there is a furlough, retirements are retroactive to the date employees make them effective. Employees will also not lose any leave over 240 hours, as it may be restored.
  3. Salaries — PP 25 salaries will be paid on schedule. PP26 paychecks for exempt employees will be paid on schedule. Exempt employees, per the Department’s Office of Human Resource Management (OHRM), will not have to wait to be paid until the furlough is over.
  4. Leave — Leave taken while county employees are still funded is treated just like leave taken under normal funding – “business as usual”. Any scheduled leave on a furlough day is cancelled and the hours are treated as furlough time.
  5. Shutdown procedures — The instructions for orderly shutdown were in the attached letter which the county employees received on the morning of Wednesday, December 26, 2018.
  6. Furlough letter — The official furlough notice was provided on Wednesday, December 26 and the FPAC Human Resources Division will not be issuing another letter to county employees. The furlough begins at close of business on Friday, December 28, and employees can either complete shutdown activities today before they leave (December 28) or come into the office on Monday, December 31 to do so. If they cannot come into the office, the shutdown procedure can be completed upon their return to the office.
  7. Services to the Service Center — I do not know whether services will be affected at service centers. Here in Washington, DC, even though folks are working in this building, we have no services, such as trash pickup or cleaning.