United for Washington Families, a diverse group of more than 50 labor, human services and advocacy organizations, is urging state lawmakers against proposals to cut the state’s safety net for injured workers.
In a letter delivered Tuesday to all state legislators and Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office (see the signatory organizations at the end), UWF explains its collective opposition to both lump-sum buyouts and a “Social Security offset” in Washington’s workers’ compensation system. Both proposals “do nothing to address the problem of long-term disability,” they simply shift costs from businesses to social services and taxpayers.
According to the UWF:
The cost of any savings created by direct benefit cuts, like the social security offset, and lump sum buyouts will eventually be borne by the state in the form of additional health care and human service costs. Washington’s safety net is already stretched thin – we simply cannot absorb additional costs to health care and human service programs.
Instead, the group proposes “smart changes that save money by providing workers with quality medical care, preventing injuries before they happen, stabilizing our fund through a rainy day account, and helping people stay at work in their original jobs. We can save money responsibly – and ensure Washington’s injured workers get the care and protection they need.”
Also Tuesday, Gov. Gregoire told reporters she is drafting legislation intended to break the legislative logjam over workers’ compensation, which is preventing action on a state budget and threatening to extend the 2011 Legislature into a second overtime special session.
Gregoire’s proposal will reportedly include lump-sum buyouts for injured workers 55 years and older. In its letter, the UWF expresses opposition to those buyouts “in any form, for workers of any age.”
That said, the governor’s latest Legislative Brief on workers’ compensation includes many cost-saving reforms supported by advocates for injured workers. Creating a statewide provider network and expanding the use of Centers of Occupational Health and Education have already been signed into law this year by Gov. Gregoire, which will save the workers’ compensation system $218 million in the next four years.
The go vernor’s brief includes two additional proposals that remain alive in Olympia and are supported by organized labor:
Washington Stay at Work Program (HB 2002), which passed the House and is available for a Senate vote, would help employers return injured workers to light-duty status, saving the system another $111 million over four years.
Rainy Day Fund (HB 2026) to promote premium stability and avoid rate spikes. Although this has no fiscal impact on the system, it would stabilize the system and smooth unpredictable rate increases caused by economic swings.
The governor’s brief also includes the “Alternative #2” proposal for lump-sum buyouts for workers 55 and older, which will save the system an estimated $498 million. But advocates for injured workers point out that every dollar “saved” is simply a dollar from the pockets of disabled workers in the form of lump-sum buyouts worth less than the guaranteed benefits they would otherwise get. That benefit cut will not only create tremendous hardship on injured workers’ families when the lump sum runs out, it will shift costs to taxpayer-funded social services.
In its letter, the UWF also says that lump-sum buyout negotiations and litigation “are an open invitation for L&I to act like a private insurance company and for private insurance companies to seek entry into Washington’s workers’ compensation system. In voting down (Initiative) 1082, the people have spoken on this issue.”
The Washington State Labor Council urges all to CLICK HERE to send a message to Senate Democratic leaders urging: “Don’t cut the safety net for injured workers! Pass the budget and GO HOME!”