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July 26, 2017

Will Wittman and Comstock Stand Up for the Federal Employees in their Districts?

The proposed House budget could mean trouble for federal employees and their families. And that’s particularly bad news for Virginia, as it has the second highest number of federal civilian employees of any state, behind California.

With so many Virginians serving as federal employees, several of the state’s congressional representatives have already spoken out against cuts to pay or retirement benefits for federal employees. Their actions over the coming weeks will be critical. Particularly important are two of our state’s Congressional representatives, Rob Wittman (District 1) and Barbara Comstock (District 10), who have signed onto a joint letter with other Republican representatives calling for House leadership to protect federal employee benefits. Both representatives come from Congressional Districts with some of the highest numbers of federal employees in the nation (nearly 50,000 in Wittman’s district and around 35,000 in Comstock’s) and have a lot to lose if benefits for this entire group are cut. 

Wittman has gone even further in his criticism of cutting benefits for this group, stating: “as you’ve probably heard by now, President Trump’s first budget proposal contained provisions that would make significant changes to the retirement system for current and future federal employees and current federal retirees. Singling out the federal workforce in this way, and trying to balance the budget on the backs of hardworking federal employees and retirees, is unacceptable to me.” (emphasis added)

The House budget plans for a minimum of $32 billion in reductions in pay or benefits for federal employees over the next 10 years, and the savings from these cuts would largely be transferred to the wealthiest Americans in the form of tax breaks.

Although some details of the cuts might not be announced until after elected officials have voted on the budget – a House panel would oversee additional cuts beyond those laid out in the budget – what has already been proposed would hit federal employees and their families hard.

One of the chief ways savings would be achieved is by increasing federal employees’ individual out-of-pocket payments to the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). After six years, federal employees would be paying 6 percent more of their salaries towards FERS with no additional benefits. If this change were fully implemented, the average federal employee would lose an average of $5,000 each year in take home pay. For a district like Wittman’s, with nearly 50,000 federal employees, that’s a substantial amount of money taken out of the local economy (around a quarter billion dollars).  

The House budget would also end the special retirement supplement, which provides a critical “bridge” for federal retirees who are not yet old enough to receive Social Security benefits.

We can get an idea of additional cuts that might be made by the House panel by looking at President Trump’s budget. That proposal includes changing the pension formula and removing cost of living adjustments. Weakening the cost of living adjustment for federal employees could be especially harmful to those who live in high-cost regions around the metro of D.C., which includes large parts of both Comstock’s and Wittman’s districts.

In their joint letter to House leadership, Comstock and Wittman expressed their sentiment that: “federal employees have already sacrificed. They were subject to a three-year pay freeze from 2011 through 2013, which the CBO estimates will save $98 billion over ten years. From 2014 through 2016, federal employees received lower Cost-of Living (COLAs) than required by law, saving $62 billion. Congress has twice increased required employee contributions to the federal retirement programs for another estimated $21 billion in savings. And in 2013, over 750,000 federal employees were furloughed due to sequestration cuts, which is estimated to have cost over $1 billion in lost wages in 2013 alone. In total, these combined shared sacrifices by federal workers have amounted to $182 billion since 2010.”

Over the coming weeks, both Comstock and Wittman will have the opportunity to work with leadership to protect the large number of Virginia’s federal employees and families who would be negatively impacted by the changes in the House budget. While supporters of the current budget may point out that it provides a federal employee pay increase of 1.9 percent, this pales in comparison to the substantial cuts in benefits that these employees would face. Wittman in particular will be put to the test if he’s asked to vote on a final budget with provisions that he finds “unacceptable.”

Budget & Revenue

The Commonwealth Institute

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