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Lost Income and Benefit Restrictions Hurt PA Workers During the Holidays

National Retail Federation indicates average holiday spending in 2015 was $805.65, which was an increase from the approximately $802 dollars spend in 2014. The Federation suspects spending will go up further in 2016. The holidays are a time when you may need a lot of money for things like gifts and entertaining. 

If you have sustained a workplace injury and are receiving workers' compensation coverage instead of your normal salary, you may not have a very easy holiday season since you may be facing financial difficulty.

In Pennsylvania, an injured worker who cannot work will receive wage loss benefits from workers' compensation for around 2/3 of average weekly wages, up to maximum levels set by the state. The fact an injured employee only receives a part of his or her salary can create holiday strain during the expensive festive season.

While injured employees already do not receive the full value of their lost income when an injury causes missed work, some workers' comp programs are making the financial situation of injured workers even worse. ProPublica conducted comprehensive research into state workers' compensation systems and found 33 states had slashed benefits or made it harder for people to get their injuries covered when they are supposed to be.

In response to the ProPublica research showing the troubling state of the workers' compensation system, 10 democratic senators urged action. According to NPR, the Labor Department prepared a report in response to the request of the democrats.

The report indicated states nationwide have: "enacted new laws, policies and procedures 'which have limited benefits, reduced the likelihood of successful application for workers' compensation benefits, and/or discouraged injured workers from applying for benefits.'"

Labor Department is urging congress to take action. One proposal is to restart a 1972 Nixon era commission which recommended a set of minimum benefits and urged congressional action if states failed in providing those benefits. Another option would be for congress to establish certain minimum standards which different state programs would need to comply with. If any state changed its laws and its workers' comp benefits fell below this recommended standard set of benefits, this would trigger federal oversight.

Workers' comp is supposed to provide an important lifeline and make sure employees are able to get medical care covered and have income to live on. If state laws don't provide an appropriate level of protection to workers, the federal government should act. Changes, however, seem unlikely to occur which improve the workers' comp system for injured employees.

Unless and until federal and state governments decide protecting workers, rather than business, is the top priority, injured employees may face continued challenges- especially as they depend upon their benefits to try to get them through the holiday season. It is essential for workers to know their rights and to fight for the benefits they can receive through the current system, as even inadequate benefits are substantially better than no benefits at all.

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