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Sweeney/Madden Bill to Provide Workers’ Comp Cola for Police & Fire in Cases of Death Signed by Governor

Trenton – Legislation authored by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Chair of the Senate Labor Committee Senator Fred Madden, that would provide cost-of-living increases in workers’ compensation death benefits for the surviving dependents of public safety workers who deceased prior to 1980, was signed by the Governor yesterday.

This bill, S-1967, will provide an annual cost of living adjustment in the weekly workers’ compensation death benefit rate for the surviving dependents of public safety workers who passed due to a workplace injury prior to 1980, or to their surviving dependents of those who died as a result of a workplace injury.

“The survivors of those our police officers and firefighters whose lives were lost while serving their communities deserve to have cost-of-living increases that allow them to keep pace with growing expenses,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “It would be unfair if they can’t afford to meet their regular expenses to support themselves and their families with paychecks that fall behind expenses.”

The adjustment will mirror the COLA already in place for benefits arising from death that occurred before 1980. Current law requires annual adjustments to be paid only for cases before January 1, 1980. The COLA will increase the amount of workers’ compensation benefits so the new amount equals the same percent of the maximum benefit as it did when originally awarded.

“The way the current law is written, workers’ comp recipients can be cut off from COLA increases if the worker passed away before 1980, which is unfair and too arbitrary,” said Senator Madden (D-Camden/Gloucester). “This bill will update and improve the law so that the previous timetable is used.”

The law will make no change in the current workers’ compensation law which provides for the reduction of certain portions of workers’ compensation benefits by the amount of Social Security disability benefits paid.

The COLA will be funded entirely through the Second Injury Fund, which is financed through an annual assessment levied on all employers who are workers’ compensation and employer’s liability insurance policyholders, or who are self-insured employers under the workers’ compensation law.  The COLA would not be provided to any individual who qualified for benefits under the Federal Old Age, Survivors and Disability Act but does not receive them.