$19.1 Billion Disaster Bill Heads to President’s Desk

Hunter Moorhead, NASCOE Legislative Consultant
June 5, 2019

Below are the highlights of the disaster aid package previously passed by the Senate, passed by the House earlier this week, and is now awaiting the President’s signature:

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

  • Agricultural Programs — $3.005 billion. Payments for crop and livestock losses due to hurricanes, typhoons, volcanic activities, tornadoes, floods, snowstorms, or wildfires during 2018 and 2019. 
     
  • Emergency Forest Restoration Program — $480 million.  Assistance to owners of private forests to restore disaster-damaged forests. 
     
  • Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations — $435 million. Financial and technical assistance to states and local sponsors to protect and restore watersheds.
     
  • Emergency Conservation Program — $558 million. Provides emergency funding and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters.
     
  • 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) — $25.2 million.  Additional funding for nutrition benefits in CNMI following typhoons in September and October.
     
  • Nutrition Assistance for America Samoa — $18 million for disaster nutrition assistance for American Samoa.
     
  • Study of Puerto Rico disaster nutrition assistance — $5 million for a study of the disaster nutrition assistance provided to the Commonwealth in 2017.

The Bill also includes:  

  • Provides 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. 
  • Establishes crop insurance for hemp products.
  • Allows certain California communities affected by 2018 wildfires to be eligible for USDA Rural Development programs until 2020 Census data is available.
Photos of Donny Green and Neil Burnette, NASCOE Legislative Co-Chairs.

NASCOE Legislative Update: May 17, 2019

Hunter Moorhead, NASCOE Legislative Consultant
May 17, 2019

The current work period has proven active for agricultural policy proposals and related oversight hearings. The below provides an update of certain activities that impact FSA programs and employees.

Disaster Assistance — The House of Representatives, on May 10, passed legislation providing assistance for 2018 and 2019 hurricanes, wildfires floods and related disasters. The Senate is currently negotiating with the House to finalize what will become the final legislation. The Senate is expected to debate disaster assistance next week. The House details are summarized below for your review. 

House Passed Bill:

  • $3.005 billion for crop and livestock losses for 2018 and 2019
  • $480 million for Emergency Forest Restoration Program
  • $125 million for Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations
  • $500 million for Emergency Conservation Program
  • $600 million for Puerto Rico nutrition assistance
  • $25 million for Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands nutrition assistance
  • $5 million for American Samoa nutrition assistance
  • $5 million to study Puerto Rico nutrition assistance provided during 2017
  • Market Facilitation Program payment limitation language:
    • $900,000 and 75% from agriculture AGI payment limitation
    • $125,000 payment cap

Market Facilitation Program — The Secretary of Agriculture recently commented that USDA will provide another round of trade assistance. Our contacts believe the total assistance will range between $15 and 20 billion. It is likely that payment rates for specific commodities will be adjusted compared to 2018. Once available, we will provide additional details. 

Federal Appropriations — The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to consider the fiscal year 2020 bill on Thursday, May 23. Our meetings with Members and staff have been productive but didn’t provide any details about funding levels. Currently, the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to meet Tuesday, June 11.

H.R. 2478 Federal Retirement Fairness Act — Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-WA) has introduced legislation allowing former temporary employees, in a temporary position after December 31, 1988, to be credited for service under FERS. Unlike previous legislation, this proposal is more favorable by not requiring significant investment by individual employees while giving workers additional credit toward retirement. We will continue to monitor this legislation that could potentially impact many of our members.

Executive Order Signed for Pay Increase

March 29, 2019

Yesterday, President Trump signed an executive order authorizing a 1.9 percent pay increase for federal employees, retroactive to January.

It is speculated the addition of six new locality pay areas played a part in the delay of releasing the updated pay tables. The tables have now been updated and released.

As of last night, OPM still would not detail exactly when federal employees would see the raise reflected on their paycheck.

Below are links to the new pay tables and the Executive Order:

2019 General Schedule Locality Pay Tables:

https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/salaries-wages/2019/general-schedule/

Executive Order:

https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-adjustments-certain-rates-pay-2/

Neil Burnette & Donny Green
NASCOE Legislative Committee Co-Chairpersons

President Signs Appropriations Bill to Fund Government

On Friday afternoon, President Trump signed the legislation to avert another government shutdown and ensures the entire federal government is funded through September 30.

The legislation covers seven appropriations bills:

  • Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies;
  • Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies;
  • Financial Services and General Government;
  • Homeland Security;
  • Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies;
  • State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs; and
  • Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.

The legislation, H.J. Res. 31, passed the Senate and House yesterday, February 14, 2019.

Photos of NASCOE Legislative Co-Chairs Donny Green and Neil Burnette

Government Funding Update from Hunter Moorhead, NASCOE Legislative Consultant

The optimism at the end of last week about a deal on border security spending facilitating a compromise allowing completion of the FY 2019 appropriations process ran into a speedbump on Sunday.

After reportedly resolving the perceived lynchpin issue of border security funding – rumored to be $2 billion, a new issue of contention arose over the weekend. Reportedly, Democratic conferees on the Department of Homeland appropriations conference are insisting on a cap of 16,500 detention beds in the US.

Cynics paint this new matter as Democrats moving the goal post on the conference negotiations, others characterize it as House conferees reflecting the views of the new House Democratic majority, and still others describe it as a natural extension of Democrats’ concerns over the Trump Administration’s immigration policies, etc.

Senators Shelby and Leahy and Chairman Lowey and Ranking Member Granger are scheduled to meet at 3 pm today (2/11) to discuss the status of the conference negotiations and determine the path forward.

Reportedly, an additional weeklong CR is being prepared in case additional time is needed to conclude negotiations/passage of a final deal. None of the stakeholders want another shutdown.

Murmurings of a year-long CR for Homeland Security are also popping up around the Hill, but hopes are that the current negotiations will resolve this new matter and permit completion of the FY 2019 appropriations process.
NASCOE’s Legislative Team will continue to provide updates as this situation develops.

Update on Legislation to Reopen Government

Friday, January 25, 2019 — The House and Senate have now approved the continuing resolution funding the government through February 15.

The legislation will now head to the President’s desk for his signature. Earlier today the President announced the agreement to end the shutdown and stated he would sign the bill to open government for three weeks.

We realize that FSA employees are concerned about timelines for processing and receiving their back pay, and we expect that there will be guidance provided to all employees on Monday when they return to work. Our understanding is that payroll processing will be a priority and processed as quickly as possible.

BREAKING NEWS FOR NASCOE’s MEMBERSHIP

We are hearing the White House is preparing to announce an agreement to temporarily end the shutdown. At this point, the House and Senate are expected to pass the proposal and send it directly to the President for his signature.

The rumor is a clean continuing resolution through February 15 or 28. This would allow President Trump to salvage a State of the Union appearance and allow federal workers to receive back pay.

NASCOE will be providing more details as we receive them.

NASCOE Congressional Contact Toolkit & NASCOE Positions on FSA Employees’ “Excepted On Call” Status

Attached are two documents:

  1. “NASCOE Positions on FSA Employees’ ‘Excepted on Call” Status”
  2. NASCOE Guide for Contacting your Congressional Representatives

Since most FSA employees are out of the office today (Wednesday), we should use this opportunity to get busy making these congressional phone calls. 

DO NOT USE YOUR GOVERNMENT POSITION, GOVERNMENT TELEPHONE, GOVERNMENT COMPUTER, OR DO THIS FROM YOUR GOVERNMENT OFFICE. 

We realize that everyone is extremely concerned about getting paid for providing our services. This is an excellent opportunity for each member to take action to help NASCOE secure equitable and fair working conditions for our employees. 


Thank you,
Neil Burnette & Donny Green
NASCOE Legislative Committee Co-Chairpersons


NASCOE-Guide-for-contacting-your-Congressional-Representatives-v.012219FINAL

NASCOE-Position-Paper-on-FSA-Employees-Excepted-on-Call-Status-v.012219FINAL

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 Legislative Committee FY19 Appropriations Update – January 8, 2019

January 8, 2019
Appropriations Update

Hunter Moorhead, Legislative Consultant

Over the weekend, the White House, led by VP Pence met with Congressional Democratic staff to continue discussions to break the current partial government shutdown.  

The White House gave staff a letter (attached) requesting $5.7 billion in border security funding (notable was a characterization of the border structure funding as “steel barriers”) and $800m in humanitarian assistance funding and an additional $798m in detention beds for the border.

The letter request represents approximately a $7b increase in funding for border security (and other CBP, ICE, etc.) funding related to the border over the FY 2019 request. None of the funding requested in the letter is offset.

Good news: The language and characterization of some of the items is changing, perhaps signaling movement toward common ground (or a compromise reflecting something that both sides can claim victory over). In addition, the inclusion of the $758m for support of 52k detention beds and $800m for urgent humanitarian assistance are included to gain Democratic support.

Less good news: The two sides continue to complain about the other and Congressional Democrats noted both the lack of justification materials and offsets for the spending which doesn’t signal a sense of urgency to resolve the funding impasse.  

The House is scheduled to vote later this week on four individual appropriations measures closely reflecting the FY 2019 Senate passed bills for Agriculture, Financial Services/General Government, Interior, and Transportation/HUD. This is just another version of the strategy the House employed last week – passing spending measures that have previously been moved with broad bipartisan support in the Senate to put pressure on Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Republicans in that body to engage on the government shutdown.

To this point, Senate Majority Leader has indicated the disagreement is between the White House and Congressional Democrats and that he will not put a bill on the Senate floor to fund the remaining agencies of the government unless it has the support of the White House.

The President is scheduled to speak to the nation tonight at 9:00 pm. At this point, we don’t expect the President will be announcing any new agreement leading to reopening the government.  In addition, President Trump will be on Capitol Hill Wednesday visiting with Senate Republicans about the government shutdown and 2019 agenda.

Questions:
With this being a new Congress, are we at risk of losing previously agreed upon appropriations for FSA salaries and expenses? Can we possibly increase previously agreed upon funding levels?

At this point, the Congressional negotiators are following last year’s agreed upon funding levels. Following the shutdown, we will work with FSA leadership to determine how the Department funded operations and the possible negative impact on any available salaries and expenses funding.

Market Facilitation Program:
(Washington, D.C., January 8, 2019) – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today extended the deadline for agricultural producers to apply for payments under the Market Facilitation Program as provided by the trade mitigation program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  The original deadline had been January 15, 2019, but farmers have been unable to apply for the program since the lapse in federal funding caused the closure of USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices at the end of business on December 28, 2018.