The House of Representatives passed bi-partisan legislation supported by the APWU to update benefits for injured federal and postal workers on Nov. 29. Introduced in the House by Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN), the bill was co-sponsored by Ranking Minority Member George Miller (D-CA), Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and was approved by a voice vote.
The bill (H.R. 2465 [PDF]) would raise benefits for funeral expenses (to $6,000) and compensation for facial disfigurement (to $50,0000); these benefits have not been increased since 1949. The bill also would streamline the claims process for workers who sustain a traumatic injury in an armed-conflict zone; permit physician assistants and nurse practitioners to certify disability for traumatic injuries, and label injuries sustained due to terrorism as “war-risk hazards.”
Speaking on the House floorduring consideration of the bill, Rep. Woolsey criticized the approach taken in a Senate and House committee during consideration of the 21 st Century Postal Service Act of 2011 (S. 1789), and the Postal Reform Act of 2011 (H.R. 2309), respectively.
“I was disappointed to see that the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs has reported out postal reform legislation that adopted many of the Department of Labor’s proposals to cut FECA, and then went a step further and cut them even more deeply, without having first undertaken an analysis of the impacts,” she said. “The Senate committee even imposed some of these cuts retroactively. Frankly, taking a meat axe to the FECA program without first doing your homework is irresponsible. It is my hope that the legislation before us today, coupled with a bi-partisan commitment to study the matter with care, can serve as an example for the correct path forward for improving FECA.”
In reference to the House bill, Woolsey said:
“I was also troubled to learn that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform decided to include changes to FECA in a postal reform bill that would create a separate postal workers’ compensation system outside of FECA. All federal workers should be covered under the same workers’ compensation system, regardless of which agency employs them. Pursuant to House Rules, workers’ compensation programs, including FECA, have been within the primary jurisdiction of the House Committee on Education and Workforce, and I expect that Members of our committee will have an opportunity to weigh in on that bill before it moves forward.”
Consideration of the legislation follows a hearing earlier in the year entitled, “Reviewing Workers’ Compensation for Federal Employees.” APWU Human Relations Director Sue Carney testified [PDF] on behalf of postal and federal employees.
In July 2011, the Education and Workforce Committee asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to evaluate the consequences of administration proposals to modify FECA-related benefit levels when permanently injured employees reach Social Security retirement age; reduce benefit levels for individuals with dependents; and establish a three-day waiting period before FECA benefits can begin. The committee has indicated that no further consideration of changes to the Federal Employee Compensation Act is likely until GAO’s evaluation is completed.