So-called double dippers drew the ire of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, during a December hearing. Above, Collins speaks at a Dec. 18 news conference. (Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images)
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced a bill Wednesday that would require federal and postal employees on workers' compensation to retire when they turn 65.
The government pays benefits to about 49,000 employees under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act so injured workers can pay their bills while they recuperate. But Collins said many are abusing the system and continuing to receive benefits long after they should have retired or returned to work.
"This program has unintentionally morphed into an alternative retirement program that is far more financially lucrative than the standard federal retirement system," Collins said.
Under the law, employees who are single or have no dependents usually get two-thirds of their monthly salary; employees who are married or have dependents get three-quarters of their pay. FECA benefits also are tax-free.
Collins said at a December hearing that the U.S. Postal Service is paying workers' comp to 132 employees who are at least 90 years old. Three employees were 98 years old and still getting benefits. She also said some federal employees at other agencies collect benefits into their 100s.
"This abuse may extend across the government," Collins said. "If recipients are gaming this crucial benefit at taxpayers' expense, they must be exposed and the underlying program must be reformed."
Last month, Collins asked the Government Accountability Office to audit FECA and find out how long people stay on the program, how many recipients receive benefits well past retirement age, and how the program compares to state workers' comp plans. She also asked GAO to see if anyone may be "double dipping" — getting workers' comp benefits while also getting regular paychecks or retirement checks at the same time — and to see if workers' comp checks are going out to deceased people.
Collins said the government spent $2.78 billion on workers' compensation payments to federal employees between July 2009 and June 2010. Of that, $1.1 billion went to postal employees.
More than 2,000 postal employees receiving benefits are at least 70 years old, and almost 1,000 are at least 80 years old, Collins said.
Collins' bill, S 261, is the Federal Employees' Compensation Reform Act.