Senate postal bill would cut workers’ comp across the government

Joe Davidson
Columnist April 20

Plans to stabilize the money-losing U.S. Postal Service have been bouncing around Capitol Hill for a long time, long enough to make you wonder if Congress will ever do anything about it. The proposals are designed to help the Postal Service deal with a changing business climate that left it with a net loss of $5 billion in fiscal year 2013.

Yet if the legislation in the Senate becomes law, its reach will extend well beyond the postal facilities and those who work there. The measure could have a significant impact on many federal employees, particularly those who are injured.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

That worries feds across the government.

The legislation would cut some payments provided through the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA), better known as workers’ comp, for staffers injured on the job. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has approved the legislation, sponsored by its chairman, Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.).

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said she “strongly opposes . . . unwarranted cuts in FECA benefits for injured federal workers who are either older or have family obligations. Under this bill, injured workers would have their FECA benefits reduced by one-third to one-quarter when they reach the retirement age for Social Security.”

A committee aide said that benefits would not change for workers who are permanently and totally disabled, or age 65 or older. The aide added that the bill includes programs to help injured workers get back to work.

So far, opposition by NTEU and other labor organizations has not been strong enough to prevent the workers’ comp provision from advancing along with the rest of the legislation. The overall bill won bipartisan approval in the committee with a 9-1 vote in February and the full Senate voted 62-37 on the same measure two years ago.

The one “no” vote in February was cast by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). He complained that the legislation “includes sweeping changes to the federal workers compensation program, even though the committee has yet to hold a single hearing on the issue.”

It certainly seems there was time to hold a hearing, given how long the provision has been around. And the Senate seems in no rush to move the legislation now.

Asked for an update on the legislation, the committee aide said Carper “remains hopeful that the full Senate can consider the bill later this year.”

Humanities and veterans

When it comes to working with veterans, government efforts aren’t limited to health and employment programs.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is getting into the act with an initiative to help veterans using literature, drama and history.

NEH started “Standing Together: The Humanities and the Experience of War” by funding five pilot programs that it says “use humanities scholarship to examine war and its aftermath” and “bring together veterans, scholars, and communities for discussions of the experiences of military service and of returning home.”

The pilot programs:

●The Warrior Scholar Project is an intensive two-week humanities-based “academic boot camp” to help vets move from the military to college. It focuses on the analytical reading, writing and discussion skills they will need to succeed in academia. Practical things such as study stills, note taking, exam preparation, course selection and time management will be covered. Yale University started the program. The University of Michigan and Harvard University also will participate.

●The Talking Service Project will use 20 organizations to form discussion groups for veterans centered around literature in the NEH-funded anthology “Standing Down: From Warrior to Civilian.” NEH says it features works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, journalism, public documents, and memoirs. Excerpts range from Shakespeare and George Washington to Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Atwood, and Tim O’Brien.” The New York Council for the Humanities and the Great Books Foundation are working on this program.

●Military History Workshop at Northeastern University in Boston will provide training in the use of digital tools to explore military history. The university and the Society for Military History will host a two-day workshop later this year “to help military historians deal with large data sets and digital mapping questions.”

●“YouStories: Classics, Conversation, Connection” works through New York City’s Aquila Theatre to connect with veterans and their families “with programs that draw on powerful portrayals in Greek drama of soldiers returning home from war.” Veterans will look for parallels to their lives in the literature “and develop insights into their own experiences of the trauma of war and the challenges of re-entering civilian life.”

●Literature & Medicine for Veterans is a reading and discussion program sponsored by the Maine Humanities Council that works “with veterans at the grassroots level, based on issues and themes that the veterans involved have highlighted as important to them.”

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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