The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Sunday, May 20, 2001

Sick worker plan to meet deadline
Program details: Specifics on compensation plan.

By Bill Bartleman bbartleman@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

The final draft of regulations for a compensation program for sick workers at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and other nuclear weapons facilities is expected to be submitted on Monday to the Office of Management and Budget.

The filing means that the U.S. Department of Labor will meet the congressional mandate for having the regulations in place so that it can begin accepting applications on July 31. Sick workers who qualify and some surviving family members will receive $150,000 in compensation and be reimbursed for future medical costs. The first checks are expected to be issued in September or October.

Stuart Roy, Washington spokesman for the Department of Labor, said Labor Secretary Elaine Chao will make an announcement about the program later this week. The announcement is expected to be confirmation that the deadlines have been met.

Roy said officials in the Office of Management and Budget reviewed the regulations several weeks ago and requested some changes. "There were a few sticking points, but no major changes were requested," Roy said. "They have been discussing them and worked them out."

Monday is the last day that the amended regulations can be submitted to OMB and published in the Federal Register by May 31, Roy said. After publication, interested parties have 90 days to comment and request changes. However, Labor will begin implementing the program after 60 days.

In March, Labor officials said they didn't think they could meet the deadline and tried to transfer the program to the U.S. Department of Justice or another federal agency. After criticism by some members of Congress, Chao the wife of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell decided it would stay with her cabinet. In an interview last month, she said the program was placed on the fast track in an effort to meet the deadlines.

The regulations outline details for implementing the program, filling out applications, processing applications and opening resource offices to help people file applications, Roy said.

One of the resource offices will be in Paducah and should be open by mid-June. The resource center work will be contracted to a private firm that will be responsible to the Labor Department.

For workers who became ill at the Paducah plant, the application process and the awarding of compensation should be easy and quick, Roy said. Under terms of the congressional mandate for the program, workers will not have to prove that they became ill from exposure at the Paducah plant, only that they worked at the plant and had certain diseases and cancers, Roy said. (The accompanying chart lists the diseases and cancers.)

Applicants will need their work history and medical records showing evidence of the covered disease. The U.S. Department of Energy, which owns the plant and operated it with a private contractor until 1993, will provide employment records, but employment may also be established through other evidence, such as Social Security, pension and union records, or through statements by co-workers. Survivors will need the same work and medical records for the deceased worker to qualify for compensation.

At other weapons facilities, Roy said, workers will have to provide evidence that they received certain levels of work-related contamination that caused their illnesses. Processing applications for other weapons facilities will take more time than those from Paducah, Roy said.