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The second open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act ends on February 15. These next three weeks are critical if we are to get as many still uninsured Americans as possible signed up for quality and affordable health care.
This is something I am passionate about. I am doing all I can to encourage Americans, especially Latinos, to go to healthcare.gov and find the right plans for them. That is why earlier today I joined with Mayor Vaughn Spencer of Reading, Pennsylvania to help him spread the word.
As of January 9, nearly 6.8 million Americans have either signed up for a new plan or were re-enrolled in a plan through the Federal Marketplace. Yet, there are many who are still without health coverage.
Let’s take a look at Pennsylvania. In the Keystone State, 8 percent of residents still do not have health insurance. More than 100,000 Latinos remain uninsured. In the state, 15 insurance companies are offering more than 125 plans. So there is plenty of choice. And the good news is, there is financial assistance available to help with the premiums. More than 81 percent of people insured through the Marketplace in Pennsylvania are getting financial help. And now that Pennsylvania has joined many other states and expanded its Medicaid program, an additional 600,000 people are eligible for Medicaid. That’s lifesaving support.
The ACA has fundamentally changed our health care system. Children can remain on their parents’ policies until the age of 26. People can get the preventive and wellness care they need to keep small illnesses from turning into serious health problems. And individuals with serious illnesses and pre-existing conditions can’t be denied coverage or dropped from health plans when they get sick.
Insurance is important. You never know when an accident or serious illness may hit. The peace of mind of knowing you and your loved ones are covered and that you won’t go into bankruptcy as a result of something you can’t control is priceless.
So I’m hoping Federal employees will help spread the word in the coming days. Make sure your family, friends, and acquaintances don’t miss out on the chance to have the coverage they need.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a strong believer in service to others and to our nation. That is why every January, in honor of his birthday, hundreds of thousands of Americans come together for a National Day of Service to recognize Dr. King’s life and legacy.
As public servants, Federal employees already know the power of working for others. The MLK Day of Service gives us an opportunity to come together with family, friends, and neighbors to give something back to our communities and to those less fortunate than we are.
Every day, I see firsthand the incredible generosity of Federal employees. Every summer, they give hundreds of thousands of pounds of canned goods and other non-perishable items to food pantries at times when it’s needed most. And they donate millions of dollars to charities through the annual Combined Federal Campaign. So I know service to others is hardly a difficult sell to our Federal family.
That is why I hope many of you will find some way to volunteer in your community on Monday, January 19. Visit www.mlkday.gov to find a project that interests you or to promote your own. Opportunities in communities all across the country range from tutoring students and mentoring at-risk youth to working to protect the environment to assisting veterans and the military. I know that everyone can find a service project that matches his or her interests, time, and abilities.
By putting the core American principles of citizenship and service into action and by addressing local challenges, together we can help make our country a better place.
I hope that the MLK Day of Service can be the spark that leads people to get involved in their communities all year long. During the past year, more than 1-in-4 Americans did volunteer work. Altogether, 62.6 million Americans gave nearly 7.7 billion hours of their time, which represented an estimated economic value of $173 billion. That’s incredibly powerful. Become a part of that movement. Take the MLK Day Challenge and pledge to serve not only one day, but throughout the entire year by visiting www.serve.gov.
“Everyone can be great because everyone can serve,” Dr. King said of the value of giving back. Help us to continue to celebrate that legacy. Even one day of community service can make a difference.
Enjoy your day!
At OPM, our Retirement Services staff works hard each and every day to provide the best customer service we can to our Federal retirees and their families. I know that as tax season approaches and the new cost of living increases take effect, many of our annuitants have questions.
I also know that the phone lines to RS can be especially busy now. So I want to make sure you know about our Services Online website. This portal is easy to navigate and allows retirees to access their retirement accounts 24/7. Retirees can update mailing addresses and change their Federal and state income tax withholding. We’re always updating this website, based in large part on your feedback and requests. For example, retirees can now request a duplicate annuity booklet from Services Online. Also new is a feature that allows retirees to look at and print their Retirement Services ID Cards.
Signing up is easy. If you have a Civil Service Annuity or Civil Service Final Number, you can use this portal. Once you’re on the login page, you can request a password by email or regular mail and set up your account. You will then have immediate access to Services Online.
If you want to get an early start on filing your taxes, you can go to Services Online and print your 1099R, the form retirees need to complete their filings. The system also includes information from the past two years if you need previous tax information. Otherwise, watch your mailbox. The 1099R forms for 2014 will be mailed by January 30, 2015.
As I said, there’s a new cost of living, or COLA, rate. It was reflected in the January 2, 2015 payments. The COLA increase was 1.7 percent for retirees. The full increase is paid to retirees who began receiving retirement payments on or before December 30, 2014. You can get more information about the COLA increases on our website.
As always, we look forward to continuing to serve our retirees and their families. We appreciate and are thankful for their years of dedication to public service. We are always looking for new and innovative ways to provide more accessibility for our annuitants to get the information they need, when they need it.
Let us know how we can better serve you. And stay tuned, there’s more to come.
The 2014 Time Magazine Person of the Year is actually a group of people – brave women and men from around the world who are fighting the deadly Ebola virus. And Federal employees are right in the middle of this important battle.
In naming the Ebola fighters the Person of the Year, the magazine editors said; “The rest of the world can sleep at night because a group of men and women are willing to stand and fight.” They are being recognized, the editors said, “For tireless acts of courage and mercy, for buying the world time to boost its defenses, for risking, for persisting, for sacrificing and saving.”
It came as no surprise to me that hundreds of Federal employees are a part of the global Ebola effort. Time named three outstanding individuals who have been key players. Nancy Sullivan and Gary Nabel, virologists at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, have spent the past decade working on an Ebola vaccine that is now in clinical trials. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Thomas Frieden pushed for CDC teams to be allowed to help with the Ebola response in West Africa. Because of Frieden’s effort, the CDC is making a big difference in this fight.
And right here in the United States, hundreds of Federal employees are making sure our health care professionals are ready to treat Ebola victims. Nearly 100 NIH nurses, doctors, and hospital staff cared for Texas nurse Nina Pham while she was recovering from the virus. And thanks to the work of NIH and CDC researchers, we’re close to a large-scale clinical trial.
We’re truly leading the way. This is the largest-ever U.S. response to a global health threat.
President Obama put it best: “We’ve got hundreds of Americans from across the country –- nurses, doctors, public health workers, soldiers, engineers, mechanics -– who are putting themselves on the front lines of this fight,” the President said during a White House celebration of U.S. Ebola fighters. “They represent citizenship, and patriotism, and public service at its best. They make huge sacrifices to protect this country that we love. And when they come home, they deserve to be treated properly. They deserve to be treated like the heroes that they are.”
This is what I mean when I talk about our incredible purpose-driven workforce. You are the standard of dedicated, passionate, and selfless public servants. And I know better than most that the recognition these scientists received from Time reflects the work of scores of public health officials across the country who have volunteered to aid in this fight. It’s an example of the service the American people can count on from Federal employees each and every day.
Thank you for all you did in 2014. Here’s to an even better 2015. I wish you and your loved ones a Happy New Year!
Photo Credit: National Institutes of Health (NIH)
All around the world, this is the day children try to stay up as late as they can, hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus as he makes his way to their house.
Did you know that thanks to the Federal government’s North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), youngsters can figure out just when to turn their eyes skyward? NORAD’s Santa Tracker will let them know when Santa and his sleigh are approaching. While they are waiting, Santa watchers can also call the Santa hotline – 877-HI-NORAD – to make any last-minute gift requests. Those that are too shy to call the big guy can send a note to his personal email address.
I’d like to share with you the interesting story behind NORAD’s Santa Tracker. This Santa watch started with a simple misprint in a Sears Department Store ad and a kind-hearted member of the military.
In 1955, Col. Harry Shoup was stationed at the Continental Air Defense Command. The office, which is now NORAD, had two phones – a regular line and one of the top-secret red phones that rings at times of national emergency.
One night Col. Shoup’s red phone rang. The colonel answered it, and heard a child at the other end asking for Santa. At first Shoup was angry, thinking it was a prank. But the child’s mother explained that the obviously wrong number was printed in a Sears ad that encouraged children to call Santa and ask for their gifts.
The colonel decided to have a little fun. He put together a team to answer the inevitable calls that started to flood in as a result of the ad. Eventually, he came up with the idea of calling radio stations and alerting DJs to the location of Santa’s sleigh. The stations would then call in regularly for updates. Shoup became known as Col. Santa, and the tradition carried on, year after year. Thanks to a recent story on National Public Radio and interviews with the late colonel’s grown children, we have the details of this endearing story.
Today, NORAD continues to track Santa and his reindeer. Volunteers man the hotline – though it is no longer a top-secret number – and update the world on Santa’s progress through Christmas Eve. It just goes to show that Federal employees – both military and civilian – have some of the coolest jobs. It also shows how a little innovation and imagination can go a long way.
The Department of Defense’s Press Secretary, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, says that “every indication is that Santa Claus will arrive on time this year to deliver presents to the world’s estimated 1.9 billion children” and that NORAD is “tuning up the Santa-tracking system” this year. NoradSanta.org now shows the countdown until Santa takes to the skies. Kirby also assures us that the anti-Grinch firewall is up and monitoring for threats and that NORAD has verified the load-bearing capacity of all rooftops. Their infrared detecting satellites are even calibrated to see Rudolph’s nose. That’s what I call cutting-edge technology.
Join us in tracking Santa this year. And I hope that you and your loved ones have a safe, happy, and restful holiday season.
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