Workers' compensation is, for many, a vital component of employment benefits. Anyone can become injured or ill on the job, and workers' compensation provides the safety net employees need to get back on their feet.
A report by the Labor Department, however, sheds light on this state-regulated system, claiming that states across the country have made changes to workers' compensation laws "which have limited benefits, reduced the likelihood of successful application for workers' compensation benefits, and/or discouraged injured workers from applying for benefits." The report calls for an exploration of more federal oversight into the program, including enacting federal minimum benefits.
"In this critical area of the social safety net, the federal government has basically abdicated any responsibility," Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said regarding the current state of workers' compensation benefits. He also called the system as it is now a "pathway to poverty."
Federal minimums for workers' compensation benefits, the report states, it would ensure that workers across the country do not receive less simply because they live in a state that has dramatically cut funding. It also would keep fewer families out of poverty and not force them to turn to other means for financial assistance, such as Medicare and Social Security, that impact taxpayers.
Although no specific legislation is recommended in the report, it provides a general framework for federal intervention into workers' compensation. The report's troubled findings has prompted action among others, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. He is currently drafting legislation to present at the next congressional session.