FEMA Says It Might Bill Employees for Working Overtime Through Hurricanes and Wildfires

People are led down a staircase to a rescue boat after
the flooding of Hurricane Harvey inundated their apartment
complex on August 30, 2017 in Port Arthur, Texas. Image via

Getty
.

Some disaster relief responders from FEMA, who worked around
the clock to respond to a record number of natural disasters in
2017 (including Hurricanes Harvey and Irma), say they have been
told they might be asked to return part of their overtime pay
to the federal government.

Bloomberg
reports
that due to a federal law capping maximum pay for
some federal employees, FEMA told staffers they may withdraw
funds from future paychecks of employees who have reached the
maximum amount for 2017. “This year’s unprecedented hurricane
season led to a record-setting length of national activation,”
the agency told Bloomberg via email. “Due to the extended work
hours involved in supporting disaster recovery and response
efforts for multiple storms, some employees have been affected
by the annual maximum earnings limitation.”

In other words, the hardest working responders might have to
pay the government for having the privilege of wading through
flooded streets and land devastated by wildfires to offer
relief to Americans in dire circumstances.

Bloomberg explains how the law works:

Under the law, an executive branch employee’s premium pay —
which includes overtime — combined with basic pay can’t
exceed the maximum rate of basic pay for certain categories
of employees. An email to staff from FEMA November 2 offered
the example of a category of employees based in Washington,
D.C. who this year get a regular salary of $153,730; for
those workers, Congress has capped the premium pay they can
receive, including for working extra hours, at $7,636.40.

Along with the annual cap, there is also a ceiling on how
much overtime compensation employees can receive each
two-week period, but agencies have the discretion to waive
that one, as the
Department of Homeland Security
did this year for
hurricane relief — contributing to the annual cap issue.

But the news for these employees gets worse: Last month, FEMA
told employees that even those who’ve hit the maximum cap “may
still be ordered to perform work without receiving further
compensation.”

And… even worse! Employees will “continue to receive their
regular base pay regardless of whether they exceed the annual
premium pay cap or not,” but next year they will have to pay
back any excess amount, again: “A bill will be determined and
established for any premium pay amounts over the annual premium
pay cap and the employee will be notified and billed in 2018
for that amount.”

I am really not sure how FEMA expects to maintain a workforce
in the future, but the agency’s hands are tied by Republicans
who want to
slash
its budget, and who ignore the fact that climate
change is leading to more frequent disasters and extreme
weather patterns.

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