Senator tries to rid postal reform bill of language reducing workers’ comp

Jacquelyn Martin/AP Jacquelyn Martin/AP Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii

An amendment introduced during Senate debate this week would strip a comprehensive U.S. Postal Service reform bill of language scaling back workers’ compensation benefits.

The 21st Century Postal Service Act (S. 1789) would give workers injured on the job 50 percent of their predisability pay upon reaching retirement age. Currently, the 1916 Federal Employees’ Compensation Act allows employees disabled on the job 66 2/3 percent -- or 75 percent if they have dependents -- of their basic salary tax-free, plus medical-related expenses. Many federal recipients, including those past retirement age, receive the 75 percent rate.

About half the federal employees who currently receive workers’ comp are postal workers.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, on Thursday proposed an amendment that would replace the workers’ compensation provisions in the postal reform bill with a FECA reform measure that already passed the House.

The House-approved provision would ensure injuries or illnesses sustained as the result of terrorism are covered as war-risk hazards; make sure physician assistants and advanced practice nurses are reimbursed for their services and certify disabled employees for injuries; streamline the claims process for workers sustaining a traumatic injury in a designated zone of armed conflict; raise the maximum disfigurement benefit from $3,500 to $50,000; provide up to $6,000 in additional support for funeral expenses; and authorize the Labor Department to collect administrative costs from agencies that employ injured or ill workers.

In a letter this week, National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association President Joseph Beaudoin urged senators to vote for the amendment.

“This language provides common-sense reforms, achieving cost savings for taxpayers and improving fairness toward disabled workers without punishing individuals who have suffered serious injuries in the line of duty,” Beaudoin wrote.

As the Senate postal reform bill currently stands, the reduction in FECA benefits would affect many employees who already have sustained injuries on the job, according to NARFE.

“It’s disturbing because it [reduces benefits] but it applies to people currently in [FECA],” NARFE legislative director Julie Tagen said. “It’s not for future disabled workers. At least if you knew about it, you could adjust your lifestyle in some way. But they are currently disabled and have no other way to get income.”

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