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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

NJ Beneficiaries Wait for Supplemental Increase in Workers’ Compensation Benefits

For almost 2 years New Jersey’s most severely injured and their families have been waiting for the legislature to act upon a law to provide for a cost of living increase of their benefits. The legislation, S-1005, would increase benefits of those injured after December 31, 1979. The bill was stalled in the legislature as the parties ironed out technical issues concerning the Social Security reverse offset. NJ is one of the few States remaining that allow workers’ compensation insurance carriers to benefit from Social Security offset rules.

Additionally NJ has side stepped the triennial increase that is provided for under the Social Security Regulations causing NJ’s injured workers not to be allowed to obtain any additional increases in benefits afforded by application of that provision of the Federal law.

The Senate Labor Committee reports favorably Senate Bill No. 1005.
This bill provides, from July 1, 2006 forward, an annual cost of living adjustment in the weekly workers' compensation benefit rate for any worker who has become totally and permanently disabled from a workplace injury at any time after December 31, 1979 and for the surviving dependents of workers who have died from a workplace injury at any time after December 31, 1979.
The cost of living adjustment would be an amount such that, when added to the workers' compensation weekly benefit rate initially awarded, the sum would bear the same percentage relationship to the maximum benefit rate at the time of the adjustment that the initial rate bore to the maximum rate at the time of the initial award, except that the amount of the adjustment shall be reduced as much as necessary to ensure that the sum of the adjustment and the amount initially awarded does not exceed the amount which would cause any reduction of disability benefits payable under the Federal Old Age, Survivors and Disability Act. The amount of the adjustment would be paid from the Second Injury Fund (SIF), which is supported by a uniform assessment spread out evenly over all employers and insurers.
Current law requires such annual cost of living adjustments (COLAs) in the workers' compensation benefit rate for death and permanent total disability to be paid from the SIF, but only in cases in which the injury or death occurred before January 1, 1980. The bill extends the adjustments to cases originating after December 31, 1979, although the adjustments would apply only to benefits paid on those claims after July 1, 2006.
The bill makes no change in the provisions of sections 1 and 9 of P.L.1980, c.83 (C.34:15-94.4 and 34:15-94.5), which provide for the reduction of certain portions of workers' compensation benefits by the amount of Social Security disability benefits paid. In addition, the bill expressly states that the supplemental benefits shall not be paid in a manner which in any way changes or modifies the provisions of those sections.

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