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Executive/legislative/judicial | Federal agencies | Return to work | Public administration

Changes to federal worker disability program under debate

July 10, 2013

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Washington – The Department of Labor claims proposed changes to its Federal Employees’ Compensation Act program would create a more equitable system, but some experts at a July 10 House hearing warned that the changes could drastically affect injured federal workers.

The proposal would create a uniform compensation level of 70 percent of a recipient’s pre-disability gross wage. This lowers the current rate for recipients with dependents to 75 percent, while increasing the current rate for recipients without dependents to about 66 percent.

Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs acting Director Gary Steinberg testified before the House Education and the Workforce Committee that the proposed changes would reduce return-to-work disincentives and simplify program administration.

But a 2012 Government Accountability Office report on the proposal suggests the median take-home pay replaced by FECA for all totally disabled workers would decline to 77 percent from 80 percent.

The DOL proposal also does not factor in potential career growth and advancement, a point some at the hearing objected. Failing to account for changes in wages throughout a career “provides a misleading picture about the impact of the injury on income,” testified Seth Seabury, an associate professor of research at the University of Southern California’s Department of Emergency Medicine.