Monday, April 15, 2024

RPEC Weekly NewsFlash, March 15, 2024

RPEC Weekly NewsFlash, March 15, 2024

Call to Action: Please Take Action Today on H.R. 5779

Concerns are escalating about the Fiscal Commission Act (H.R. 5779), which is poised for a House vote. This legislation will form a 16-member fiscal commission that will recommend spending cuts to balance the federal budget and reduce the debt ceiling. Since January, RPEC has been sharing information in the weekly NewsFlash emails about the concerning features of this bill. Now, AFSCME Retirees and the American Alliance for Retired Americans are calling on us to act now to stop the progression of this bill. Based on public comments rendered by House Speaker Mike Johnson, Social Security and Medicare funding will likely be targeted for cuts by the fiscal commission if the legislation is approved by Congress.

Here are two ways you can communicate your opposition to this bill:

  • Sign onto this letter. The letter is being sent by all AFSCME Retirees chapter members to your representatives in Congress. The sign-on process takes less than 1 minute to complete.
  • Call 1-844-331-0441. Tell Congress to vote NO on the Fiscal Commission Bill (H.R. 5779) and to oppose any legislation on fiscal commissions. This call will take only a few minutes of your time.

This bill continues to be on AFSCME Retiree’s high priority watchlist as budget negotiations intensify in March to secure approval of a final budget bill that will fund the federal government through fiscal year 2024 (October 1, 2023 through September 30, 2024).

Our strength is in our numbers. Your federal elected officials will take notice of your concerns as voting constituents. Thank you for taking time out of your day to take action. Stay tuned for the latest news on this bill and other state and federal advocacy issues through the weekly NewsFlash.

Congress Approves First Six Appropriations Bills

Both the Senate and House have approved H.R. 4366 (Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2024), which includes the first six appropriations bills to fund federal government agencies, programs and services through September, the end of fiscal year 2024.  The bill extends funding for Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy-Water, Interior-Environment, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development.  The bill also includes extensions on certain Medicaid and Medicare policies through December 2024.

As noted in an earlier NewFlash on this topic, Congress plans to consider the remaining appropriations bills on or before the March 22 approval deadline. The remaining bills address the annual funding supporting roughly 80% of all federal government agencies, operations, and programs, including Defense, Financial Services-General Government, Homeland Security, Labor-Health & Human Services-Education, the Legislative Branch, and State-Foreign Operations.

Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB) to Consider New UMP Classic Medicare Pharmacy Benefit at March 21 meeting

If you are a consistent reader of the weekly NewsFlash, you know that for months, the Health Care Authority has been seeking retiree input on a potential new Part D pharmaceutical benefit to replace the current one available to those who subscribe to the Uniform Medical Plan (UMP) Classic Medicare. The findings from virtual and in-person town hall meetings and retiree input gleaned from emails and written correspondence will be shared with the Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB) at the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting on March 21 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. While the agenda is not yet posted, RPEC has learned that this topic will likely be addressed between noon and 2 p.m. If you earn your healthcare benefits from PEBB and are interested in sharing your perspective on the Part D proposal, please plan to tune in via Zoom and offer comments during the public comment section of the agenda.

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RPEC Partners Sponsor Zoom Discussion About H.R. 5779, March 22, 11 a.m.

For the last several months, RPEC has been sharing information about an alarming piece of federal legislation (H.R. 5779) that, if approved by Congress, could reduce funding for Medicare and Social Security.

The bill will create a 16-member fiscal commission to search for ways to reduce the national deficit and balance the national budget. Retiree and senior advocacy organizations fear the Commission will prioritize Social Security and Medicare funding cuts over other federal expenditures based on public comments rendered by House Speaker Mike Johnson, who is a vocal advocate for this commission.

This NewsFlash includes a “call to action” from AFSCME Retirees, RPEC’s parent organization as AFSCME Retiree Chapter 10. All RPEC members are asked to sign a virtual letter, developed by AFSCME Retirees, to urge Congress to defeat this bill and to oppose any other bills that might create a similar commission to evaluate federal budget expenditures. We hope you will join us in advocating against the passage of this bill.

Articles about the bill have been included in the weekly NewsFlash and the all-member quarterly newsletter that members received in the mail in late February/early March. A detailed position paper about the proposed debt commission is available at https://retiredamericans.org.

Now, two of our partner organizations, Social Security Works Washington, and Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action, are also hosting a webinar about H.R. 5779. All RPEC members are invited to attend.

Time: Mar 22, 2024 11:00 AM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87621462048

Meeting ID: 876 2146 2048

Keep apprised of the latest news about your federal retirement benefits by reading the weekly NewsFlash and visiting www.rpecwa.org.

Update on Change Healthcare Cyberattack

Three weeks have now passed since the ransomware attack on Change Healthcare, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group (UHG) that manages insurance claims and works with thousands of insurance companies, pharmacies, and hospitals to determine what patients owe for treatments and prescriptions. Upon discovering the attack on February 21, Change Healthcare immediately shut down its systems and has yet to restore them fully. Without the third-party billing service, medical practices nationwide have been unable to get paid, and many fear they will run out of funding soon.

UHG has made temporary funding available to health care providers and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is providing accelerated or advanced payments. At this time, Change Healthcare expects provider electronic payments to be available for connection by March 15, with phased reconnection/testing of the claims system taking place during the week of March 18.

For updates on the Change Healthcare cyber response, visit https://www.unitedhealthgroup.com/changehealthcarecyberresponse.

Washingtonians: File taxes for free with IRS Direct File

From The Stand:

WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 13, 2024) — The U.S. Department of the Treasury and Internal Revenue Service this week announced the new IRS Direct File program, including a new Spanish version of the free tax filing service — which allows eligible taxpayers in Washington and 11 other states to prepare and file their tax return online, for free, directly with the IRS, rather than paying costly fees through a middleman website.

Direct File was made possible by President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, landmark legislation that Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was instrumental in passing. It invested new resources in the IRS to allow the agency to improve service to taxpayers, including by developing new tools like Direct File that make it easier for Americans to file their taxes.

The Treasury Departments estimates that 1.1 million Washington state taxpayers will be eligible. This investment will also reduce the deficit by ensuring wealthy individuals, large corporations, and complex partnerships pay taxes owed.

“Americans should not have to shell out hundreds of dollars just to file their taxes,” Murray said in a statement released Tuesday. “Taxpayers should be able to file their taxes directly with the IRS through a secure, free platform, and today, it’s finally becoming a reality. Democrats made a worthwhile investment in the IRS to help ensure giant corporations and the very wealthiest would pay at least the taxes they already owe—part of that investment also means a more efficient IRS that can provide better services and create tools like Direct File that will save people money. I encourage all Washington state taxpayers to check if they are eligible and file their taxes with Direct File before April 15.”

Direct File is easy to use, with no hidden junk fees, and works as well on a smartphone as it does on a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer. Direct File shows taxpayers the math so they can be sure that their return is accurate, and they are getting the refund they are entitled to. Live customer service support is also available for Direct File users. Initial users have saved hundreds of dollars and reported that the tool is simple and straightforward to use.

“The early results of the program’s test phase make clear that this is a major step forward in easing the burden of filing tax returns for families,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA, 1st). “I encourage Washington taxpayers to see if they qualify for this new, innovative tool offered by the federal government.”

Check your eligibility to use Direct File at directfile.irs.gov.

More Scam Information from AFSCME Retirees

228,282. That’s how many complaints the Federal Trade Commission received about government imposter scams last year.

In these scams, fraudsters pretending to be from a trusted entity (like Social Security) trick people into sending them money or personal information. They took more than $126 million from Americans in 2023 alone. 

How can you spot a scammer? There are a few telltale signs. Scammers often:

  • Pretend to be from an agency or organization you trust.
  • Say there is a problem you need to solve or a prize you can win.
  • Pressure you to act immediately.
  • Tell you to pay in a specific way.

If a scammer is trying to reach you – whether through the phone, text, or email – follow this advice to protect yourself:

  • Hang up on suspicious calls from “government officials” calling about a problem with your Social Security number or account.
  • Never give out your Social Security number, banking information, or Medicare number to anyone who contacts you through unsolicited calls, texts, or emails.
  • Never click on an email link or attachment unless you fully trust the sender.
  • Never make payments with gift cards, wire transfers, or by mailing cash.
  • Report Social Security scams to oig.ssa.gov – and report other scams to reportfraud.ftc.gov.

Please share these tips with your friends and family, too. Thanks for staying vigilant!

Tuition Discounts for Your Family

Are you interested in exploring opportunities for professional development or personal growth, or is a family member ready to return to college and chase their dreams? Either way, your union’s college benefit has you covered.

As an RPEC member, you have access to a plethora of benefits that provide discounts and deals through our affiliation with AFSCME. One of the most unique benefits is discounted tuition at select 2-year and 4-year colleges/universities, provided by Employee Benefit Systems (EBS).

If you or a family member is interested in pursuing a degree through this benefit, access the link below.

https://ebsunioncollegebenefit.org/EBS/

When completing the form, you will select “AFSCME” as your union affiliation. If you have any questions, you can reach EBS at 1 (888) 521-2900.

Upcoming Events:

Please refer to our calendar page for more information for each event, including links to Zoom meetings, if available.

  • Mar. 21 – Public Employees Benefits Board (9:00 am)
  • Mar. 22 – Political Action Committee Meeting (10:00 am)
  • Mar. 22 – PSARA & Social Security Works Webinar (11:00 am)
  • April 2 – PSARA & Social Security Works Webinar (5:00 pm)
  • April 5 – Legislative Update Call (2:00 pm)
  • April 11 – Public Employees Benefits Board (9:00 am)
  • April 11 – Healthcare Workgroup (3:30 pm)
  • April 12 – Legislative Committee Meeting (10:00 am)
  • April 16 – Select Committee on Pension Policy (10:00 am)
  • April 19 – Pension Policy Workgroup (10:00 am)

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