Shutdown Survival Kit

Monday - 4/11/2011, 4:00am EDT

When winter storms threaten the mid-Atlantic region, people in the Washington area rush to the stores to stock up on milk, toilet paper and white bread. A fed friend, who grew up in Buffalo, said in her hometown it was beer and condoms. Whatever. Priorities differ.

Given the way Congress doesn't do it's job anymore, like failing for 6 months to approve budgets, government shutdowns are likely to be more frequent in the future. Even if we were to dodge the bullet today.

So along with milk, bread and TP you might want to put the following furlough checklist in a safe place where you can access it for next time. Here's how the following basics are handled during a furlough:

    Depending on the timing of the pay period you will get most or all of your next paycheck. After that, who knows...

    Civil Service pension payments yes, at least for the upcoming month.

    Social Security benefits. So far, so good.

    VA benefits yes.

    IRS refunds yes if you file electronically. But there could be a delay if you do your return the old-fashioned (paper) way.

    If you are on vacation stop having fun. You won't be paid for it unless Congress votes make-up salaries for people who were furloughed. If you are on vacation and are declared to be "excepted" you must report for work. Otherwise you will be declared AWOL.

It goes from silly to sad. A single-parent (widower) Defense Department civilian told me his 4 year old daughter is in DOD-day care. His question: What happens if the day care center is closed and he is ordered to work. One "small" problem, but multiply it by 800,000.

For current and future reference, here's the guide to furloughs worked up by the legislative staff of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees:

    Federal Employee Pay: According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), federal employees who are asked to keep working during a shutdown will be paid once a budget deal to resume government operations is passed.

    However, it will be up to Congress to decide whether to pay furloughed employees. Congress did so after the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns, but that may not happen this time, particularly given the demonization of federal workers by some lawmakers.

    Annuity Benefits: Judging from similar government shutdowns in the past, and the fact that OPM retirement operations are not funded through general revenues, retirees should expect to receive their annuity payments deposited into their accounts or received in the mail, on time as usual. OPM sends annuity payment tapes to the Department of Treasury in the middle of the month prior to the payment date so that Treasury has time to process the payment tapes/cut checks and ensure that annuity payments are received by the first of the month.

    Health, Life, and Long-Term Care Benefits: Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, Federal Employees Group Life Insurance, FEDVIP (dental/vision insurance), and Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program premiums will continue to be withheld and paid by OPM. There will be no interruption in insurance coverage.

    Retirement Processing: For those newly retired employees, a government shutdown may delay the processing of your paperwork by your agency, prior to your records being sent to OPM. For those recent retirees whose retirement OPM has already begun to process, there should be no additional delay caused by a government shutdown for the reasons given above.

    Retirement and Benefits Information: OPM staff responsible for answering the retirement and health benefits questions asked by federal workers and annuitants will be available during the shutdown. If there is a shutdown, NARFE members will continue to have access to this information by calling or e-mailing the NARFE Retirement Benefits Service Department.

    Thrift Savings Plan: The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board has stated that a federal government shutdown would not affect the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) since it does not receive annual appropriations from Congress. The TSP would operate during such a period as usual.

    Other Federal Benefits

    The Department of Veterans Affair's (VA) operational plans are still being finalized, but our current understanding is the following:

  • Thanks to advance appropriations (a two-year budget cycle), VA will continue to provide 100 percent of health care services to enrolled veterans through VA medical facilities across the country. Veterans' medical appointments will not be canceled or delayed in the event of a partial governmentwide shutdown.