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DOL official pitches single workers' comp rate

Jul. 11, 2013 - 07:40PM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Gary Steinberg, acting director of DOL's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs
Gary Steinberg, acting director of DOL's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (File)

A senior Labor Department official defended Wednesday a proposed streamlining of the payment system for federal employees injured on the job.

“A single rate would be simpler and more equitable and would produce significant savings to the taxpayers,” Gary Steinberg, acting director of DOL’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, said at a congressional hearing on the proposal, first broached by the Obama administration two years ago as a part of a broader set of possible changes to the program.

Under the existing system, the rate for federal employees who must take time off because of workplace injuries is about 67 percent of salary. But for employees with a spouse or dependent child, the “augmented” rate is 75 percent. The administration wants to create a single 70 percent rate; taken together with the rest of the package, the potential savings are more than $500 million over 10 years, Steinberg said.

Few state workers’ comp programs provide an augmented rate, he said, and none approaches the federal level. Because federal workers’ comp benefits are tax-free, recipients may take home more than actively employed colleagues, Steinberg said.

But federal employee unions oppose the change and the plan has struggled to gain traction on Capitol Hill. A House-passed bill in 2011 left the dual rate structure untouched.

Moving toward a single rate is “worthy of consideration,” Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., chairman of the House Education and the Workforce subcommittee on workforce protections, said at the hearing. “However, we have to be mindful how this will affect federal employees with families, especially when their colleagues without dependents stand to gain financially.”

For the 2012 chargeback year, which ran from July 2011 to the end of June 2012, the worker’s comp program cost about $3 billion in wage-loss compensation and other services, according to the Labor Department.

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