At a Senate hearing Tuesday, the Obama administration will offer proposals that its says will improve the workers’ compensation program for federal employees.

At least one federal labor union begs to differ with that interpretation.

First, some definitions. OWCP is the Labor Department’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, which administers FECA, the Federal Employees' Compensation Act.

“This critical program has not been significantly updated in almost 40 years, and I think it deserves a closer look,” said Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate subcommitee on the federal workforce. 

In a statement prepared for the subcommittee’s hearing Tuesday, Gary Steinberg, acting director of the Labor Department office, says: “The proposal that we have crafted for consideration would provide OWCP with enhanced opportunities to facilitate rehabilitation and return-to-work while simultaneously addressing several disincentives that may impact timely return to work by applying a new set of benefit rates prospectively to new injuries and new claims for disability occurring after enactment of the FECA amendments.”

One proposal would establish a 70 percent benefit level for all recipients. Currently, employees with dependents get 75 percent of their pay; those without dependents get 66.7 percent. The 75 percent level often exceeds the employee’s take-home pay before he or she was injured, which Steinberg says is a big disincentive to returning to work.

In a prepared statement submitted to the panel, Ron Watson, representing the National Association of Letter Carriers, says the administration’s position is “based on an over-simplified view of the matter” and is at odds with the union’s experience.

Watson said “the problem is that hundreds, even thousands, of injured workers who are able, willing and eager to return to work are not being allowed to do so.”

Postal Service policy, he said, prevents many injured workers from doing limited-duty jobs even though they are able to perform those tasks and want to do them.

The hearing was scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Live video is planned for the subcommittee’s Web site.


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