Welcome to another day of furlough with still no end in sight!
Certain questions have arisen from members that will be addressed in this message. Please remember that while I will continue to send email updates to all members during the course of the furlough, this information is being posted at NFFE1450.org as well. We have discovered that there cannot be too many methods of communicating with all of you.
Today’s Washington Post contained an interview with the attorney filing a 13th Amendment lawsuit (basically alleging slavery) on behalf of four federal employees being forced to work without pay. None of the federal employee plaintiffs work for HUD. In the interview, the attorney is quoted as saying that “beginning February 1 they will no longer have health insurance.”
The attorney appears to be referring to all federal employees on nonpay status, including his clients, but the Post may have misconstrued his statement if he intended to refer only to his clients’ specific situation.
Nonetheless, the statement appears to be incorrect. According to furlough guidance issued by OPM, health and life insurance coverage will continue unabated for up to 365 days while on nonpay status. The federal government continues to pay its share of health insurance premiums during the furlough while the employees’ share will be collected after the furlough ends. Life insurance premiums are collected after nonpay status ends, as well.
HUD may provide options on how the accrued premium amounts may be paid but generally the choices are direct payment or some form of payroll deduction. (The coverage rules change when the nonpay period is not continuous but, hopefully, I won’t have to report on those rules.)
I recognize that many of you may be facing a severe cash shortage because of the furlough. We have a significant number of single parents; single adults who support siblings and parents; and an untold number of members who are struggling to stay financially afloat in some of the most expensive cities in the country.
It may be tempting to turn to modern fundraising mechanisms such as GoFundMe to raise cash. Your sympathetic stories will, undoubtedly, elicit donations. And, who knows–you could raise sufficient money to retire!
But my informal suggestion to you, as someone who previously rendered ethics opinions, is DON’T DO IT.
GoFundMe is a modern invention, definitely not contemplated by the Standards of Conduct. The DAEO for Region IX is Mike Probst. Mike is the only person who can issue an ethics decision as to whether asking for money through GoFundMe is consistent with the Standards of Conduct. However, since HUD is shutdown during the furlough (HUD’s website is closed) and I cannot locate anyone to issue an ethics opinion (including DOJ), the following is why I strongly urge members to not use GoFundMe or any similar mechanism without first obtaining an ethics opinion from Mike. (Additionally, I have not been able to locate any issued ethics guidance on the use of GoFundMe by federal employees.)
Please remember that HUD, typically, is very conservative in interpreting the Standards of Conduct.
The ethics rules allow you to accept a gift of up to $20. However, you may not accept anything from a “prohibited source”. Generally, a prohibited source refers to anyone seeking business with HUD; any type of official action from HUD; or someone who may be substantially affected by your duties.
Since you may not be able to determine whether a donor is a prohibited source, and the penalty for accepting a gift from a prohibited source (or in the case of GoFundMe, multiple sources) may be severe (suspension to removal on first offense), it would not be wise to use GoFundMe to raise cash.
Of course, the above is just a summary analysis and not complete by any means (there are many other factors to be considered) but, as noted, only Mike’s opinion counts. And, until Mike is available, this is my recommendation.
(Please feel free to read the Standards of Conduct located at 5 CFR Part 2635 and HUD Supplementary standards located at 5 CFR 7501. Draw your own conclusions.)
Dennis Murakami, President, NFFE-1450