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News briefs: Week of Sept. 9, 2013

Sep. 8, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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FEEA suspends furlough loan program

The Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund (FEEA), swamped by heavy demand, has suspended emergency loans for federal workers in financial trouble because of sequester-related furloughs.

“It is always our goal to be able to assist every fed, every time,” Robert Tobias, president of the non-profit group’s board, said in a news release. “However, financial circumstances compel us to take a different path at this time.”

Since the beginning of May, the fund has doled out more than $500,000 in no-interest loans to federal employees having trouble paying rent or meeting other basic needs. That sum is close to what the organization normally gives out in an entire year.

“This has just been unprecedented for us,” said Robyn Kehoe, FEEA director of field operations.

CFC kicks off 2013 fundraising drive

The Combined Federal Campaign officially kicked off its 2013 fundraising drive last week amid the likelihood of significant organizational and administrative changes ahead.

The three-and-a-half-month-long campaign will run through Dec. 15.

The Office of Personnel Management is weighing almost 1,400 comments — many of them critical — from federal employees, CFC charities and other participants on its proposal to overhaul the campaign’s structure. OPM proposes supplanting local federal coordinating committees with a regional approach, shifting to all-electronic giving, and requiring participating charities to pay an application fee.

Mark Lambert, an OPM official who headed the campaign from 2008 to 2010, predicts the plan will attract new donors and contributions. While last year’s CFC raised almost $260 million in pledges, that total marked the third straight yearly decline.

VA to give benefits to same-sex spouses

The Veterans Affairs Department will begin recognizing same-sex spouses, giving gay veterans access to benefits previously limited to heterosexual couples, the Obama administration announced.

The decision comes after the June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said a law distinguishing between heterosexual and homosexual marriages was unconstitutional.

The decision will allow veterans with same-sex spouses to tap additional benefits, including survivor benefits.

In June, the Defense Department announced plans to extend benefits to same-sex spouses of current service members, but it remained unclear how VA would respond because the Supreme Court’s ruling did not specifically address the federal law that defines veterans benefits, known as Title 38.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the court’s intent was clear regardless of remaining loopholes.

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