STRICKLAND INTRODUCES BILL TO CORRECT PROBLEMS WITH ENERGY EMPLOYEES COMPENSATION PROGRAM
WASHINGTON - Congressman Ted Strickland today introduced legislation to correct problems with the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). The bill requires the Department of Labor (DOL) to pay benefits for disability claims under Subtitle D of the program from a permanent funding source established in the original Act. In addition it provides for the expansion of illnesses covered under the program. "We have given the Department of Energy plenty of time - two years, in fact - to develop rules that will ensure these disabled workers receive the compensation they are entitled to for the dangerous work they performed,"
said Strickland. "It's my understanding that to date, DOE has only sent four claims to the Physician's Panel. But while DOE waits, workers may be dying. We can no longer sit idly by while DOE experiments with state agreements that do not assure that these sick workers will finally receive just compensation from their government." The EEOICPA was signed into law in 2000 after the Department of Energy admitted exposing millions of workers to radioactive materials during the
Cold War. Upon passage of this landmark legislation, a compromise emerged from the conference committee in October 2000 which created two separate programs: one for workers exposed to radiation and beryllium which is administered by the Department of Labor, and a second for workers exposed to toxic substances and other hazardous materials which is administered, in part, by the Department of Energy. Under Subtitle D of the existing program, DOE is required to recommend through a Physician's Panel whether an illness is work related, and relies on state worker compensation programs to make payments for wage loss and medical care. However, this approach, by DOE's own admission, will not work for these toxic substance cases because at least 50% of the claimants will not have a "willing payor" who will honor the findings of DOE's
Physician's Panel. DOE has tried to enter into Memorandums of Agreement (MOA's) with individual states, but by-and-large those have not been consistent with Congressional intent that the Physician's Panel determine whether workers qualify for the program. For example, the MOA between the State of Ohio and DOE explicitly states that, "...[Ohio] shall not be bound by the determination of any Physicians
Panel appointed in accordance with subtitle D." "It's clear there is a problem here," added Strickland. "We welcome the opportunity to work with DOE and DOL to ensure all of the nation's nuclear workers made sick from their jobs in nuclear weapons factories, through no fault of their own, receive just compensation."
Congressman Strickland's legislation eliminates all MOA's with individual states and establishes DOL as the "willing payor" for disability claims for occupational illnesses arising out of employment at DOE facilities, instead of having the Department of Energy "assist" claimants with state worker compensation claims. DOL would then evaluate disability and adjust payments accordingly.
The payments would match Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA) levels of benefits, and use the same administrative processes now used by the DOL for radiation, beryllium and silica claims. All payments come from the EEOICPA Fund as direct spending.
The legislation also adds chronic renal disease as a covered illness eligible for lump sum payments for workers employed for at least 1 year at a covered uranium facility, and adds lung cancer to the list of covered beryllium diseases. Further, it authorizes the National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health to recommend to Congress additional radiogenic cancers for the Special Exposure Cohort list.
"This legislation takes the next step to ensure that this program achieves its intended purpose: compensating workers who selflessly worked in hazardous conditions for the benefit of our national security," concluded Strickland. "They deserve the benefits Congress promised, not more bureaucracy and roadblocks from states."