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Misinformed Local Politician Attacks Injured Workers

2016-04-20

Another yelping politician, Tazewell County Board Chairman David Zimmerman, has joined the Rauner band to complain about worker’s compensation benefits in Illinois. To listen to these wails gives new life to the old quote, "If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed." According to Mr. Zimmerman, those injured on the job get "huge payouts that only cost taxpayers money and drive employers from the state".

Let’s take a little better look at that one. A person injured on the job gets temporary benefits while off work at the rate of two-thirds of his average weekly wage over the past year before the injury. That means today’s benefit is less than today’s wage rate if the person had a raise anytime in the last year. That’s hit number one to the huge payout.

If the injured person has a permanent disability, he or she gets a benefit based on 60 percent of that same average weekly wage. The amount of permanent benefits was reduced from two-thirds to 60 percent several years ago so that cut benefits for someone who will have a lifetime of pain or limitation. That’s hit number 2 to the huge payout.

Most workers get some form of fringe benefits when they are working. This can be health care benefits for themself and even the whole family, pension benefits for retirement, and maybe some other form of retirement income. However, in hit number 3 to the huge payout, none of that is covered by worker’s compensation. Someone who is off work for a few months will probably lose health coverage that was paid through employer contributions while at work and will have to pay for it himself. Check out the cost under your health plan and see how much that will run. Lost pension contributions? No one makes that up for you so when you need it most in old age it won’t be there.

Some of the worker’s compensation permanent disability payments are needed to cover these losses which are not directly paid in benefits. Ask anyone who is seriously injured and loses not only wages but all the other benefits. Ask if they want to trade the comp payments for all the other things they lose. And that doesn’t even touch the injuries caused when comp payment are late, or inaccurate or disputed and held up for months or even years.

Between 2012 and 2014 Illinois had the largest decrease in worker’s compensation insurance premiums in the nation. That’s right. All 49 other states did worse than Illinois and its "huge payouts". From 2011 to 2015 there was a 19 percent decline in benefit payments. How much did your local taxes go up during that time? Maybe Mr. Zimmerman ought to focus on why Illinois has the second highest property tax rate in the nation. If it was caused by those "huge payouts" why didn’t it go down when the comp rates reduced? Tazewell County sets its own property tax rate every year and I don’t remember ever getting to vote on what the rate should be. How does that effect businesses? Want their costs to go down – lower that rate you set every year.

The bottom line is simple. Cutting worker’s compensation benefits places more and more burden on the guy at the bottom of the pile. I don’t recall ever hearing that the CEO of Cat, St. Francis Hospital or any other large employer ever had an on the job injury. Yet many of their lowest paid employees had injuries and took home less from comp than they would have earned on the job without the injury. Even politicians are rarely hurt on the job. That’s left to the people who fix the streets or build the buildings and asking them to do with less is just plain kicking someone who is already down.

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