The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Friday, December 08, 2000
Paducah, Kentucky

Sick worker benefit plan outlined
The Labor Department must have eligibility rules ready by May 31, and have regulations and claim forms ready by July 31. Payments could be made by late 2001.

By Bill Bartleman
Workers at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant who became ill because of exposure to hazardous materials should be able to file compensation claims for up to $150,000 by Aug. 1.

President Clinton issued an executive order Thursday putting the Labor Department in charge of the compensation program and setting deadlines. Legislation approved by Congress earlier this year created the program and instructed the president to come up with an implementation plan.

U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, praised Clinton's plan. "It appears to be right on target and what we had hoped for," Whitfield said. One concern of lawmakers was which agency would be in charge.

Whitfield opposed a suggestion that the Department of Justice be in charge. He favored Labor, which is experienced in administering worker compensation programs.

Whitfield said he was pleased at Clinton's speed in issuing the order, adding that he doubts the next president will change anything.

The Labor Department must have eligibility rules ready by May 31, and have regulations and claim forms ready by July 31. Whitfield said the first payments could be made by the end of 2001.

The Labor Department will define employee eligibility. Whitfield said a key component is that current or former plant workers do not have to prove that their illness is related to their work at a government plant. "The burden of proof is on the government to prove the illness wasn't a result of working at the plant," Whitfield said.

Compensation for former workers who died because of work-related illness will go to surviving family members.

In addition to compensation of up to $150,000, workers and former workers will be eligible for free medical care.

Clinton called the program long overdue. "Existing workers' compensation programs have failed to provide for the needs of these workers and their families," his order stated. Clinton blamed past U.S. Department of Energy policies that denied exposure caused workers to become ill. The policy changed last year when DOE said exposure did cause illnesses and death.

Much of the work done by employees at Paducah and elsewhere was related to Cold War efforts to protect the country's security through the production of nuclear weapons.

"While the nation can never fully repay these workers or their families, they deserve recognition and compensation for their sacrifices," Clinton's order said.

He instructed the Labor Department to set up a system that "minimizes the administrative burden on workers and their survivors."