The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky

Paducah workers untouched by cuts

Employees of the gaseous diffusion plant won´t be affected, Whitfield says.

By Joe Walker

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Current and former Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant employees are not affected by a Bush administration effort to limit costs of a program to compensate Cold War-era nuclear workers who developed cancer from radiation exposure, Rep. Ed Whitfield says.

“The proposed cuts to the compensation program for workers made ill by exposure to radiation at DOE facilities will have no effect on workers from the Paducah plant,’ said Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville.

Whitfield made the statement in response to an Associated Press story that ran in Wednesday´s Sun quoting a document written by White House budget officials and sent to the Labor Department. The document commends Labor officials for “identifying the potential for a large expansion’ of a program aimed at compensating thousands of nuclear workers. It then states that the White House will lead an interagency working group to develop ways “to contain growth in the costs of benefits’ the program provides, according to the AP.

Whitfield clarified that legislation he and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, pushed through Congress in 2001 puts sick Paducah workers in a special category to automatically receive benefits if they have qualifying radiation-induced cancers. The compensation is a lump sum payment of $150,000 plus lifetime medical benefits.

“The legislation guarantees that any spending cuts now or in the future will not affect any Paducah workers entitled to this compensation,’ Whitfield said.

As of Tuesday, the Labor Department had paid $219 million in lump sum checks and $14.8 million in medical benefits to 1,462 current and former Paducah plant workers.

The document said the working group will discuss whether “administration clearance’ should be required before groups of workers are deemed eligible for compensation, the AP reported. An advisory board mentioned in the budget document is supposed to recommend soon whether groups of workers in Colorado, Iowa, Tennessee and the Marshall Islands should automatically be compensated under the program. Similar recommendations would follow for workers from other sites across the country.

An Office of Management and Budget spokesman said the goal is to better coordinate work by the Labor Department, which provides expertise in claims processing; the Energy Department, which has records on its former workers; and the Health and Human Services department, which has scientific expertise.

However, Rep. John Hostettler, R-Ind., who chairs a House Judiciary subcommittee that oversees claims issues, said he would hold hearings on the compensation program. Other lawmakers argued that decisions about benefits should be based on science, not budgets.