The Office of Personnel Management announced in a rule Dec. 7 that it had added six parts of the country to its list of locality pay areas and expanded two areas already receiving locality pay for the 2019 pay period.

Locality pay is provided to federal employees that live in disproportionately expensive areas of the country. As a result, an employee living in an expensive area and at a particular pay grade would make slightly more than someone at the same pay grade living in a cheaper part of the country, to make up the cost-of-living difference.

The six new locality pay areas are: Birmingham-Hoover-Talladega, Alabama; Burlington-South Burlington, Vermont.; Corpus Christi-Kingsville-Alice, Texas; Omaha-Council Bluffs-Fremont, Nebraska and Iowa; San Antonio-New Braunfels-Pearsall, Texas; and Virginia Beach-Norfolk, Virginia and North Carolina.

The new areas will impact approximately 70,000 General Schedule employees, beginning Jan. 1, 2019, with the largest group of impacted employees in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk area.

“This is welcome news to the tens of thousands of federal employees who work in areas where salaries have fallen further behind their private sector peers. Moving into their own pay locality, as opposed to the catch-all locality that covers the rest of the U.S., means these employees will be in line for larger locality raises in the future,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. in a news release.

In addition, the Albuquerque-Santa Fe-Las Vegas, New Mexico region will be expanded to include McKinley County, New Mexico, and the Los Angeles-Long Beach, California, area will be expanded to include San Luis Obispo County, California.

The additions impact approximately 1,700 feds in those areas.

But according to Cox, the locality pay expansions will do little to help employees if Congress does not also act to raise overall federal pay to meet private sector levels. Congress has delayed a decision on a federal pay raise until late December 2018.

“Unfortunately, the locality pay system has never worked as originally enacted in 1990, since successive Congresses and administrations have prevented the full locality increases from taking effect. Today, federal salaries on average are nearly 31 percent behind non-federal salaries, based on the most recent Labor Department surveys,” said Cox.

“Many agencies report having trouble recruiting and retaining talented employees across the country due to these widening pay gaps. Congress can certainly help by approving a minimum 1.9 percent pay raise next year for the 2.1 million civilian employees who keep our government running every day.”