TURNER BILL ESTABLISHING A COST-SAVING PARTIAL DISABILITY BENEFIT TO HELP WORKERS TRANSITION BACK TO THE JOB CLEARS SENATE

Senator Shirley K. Turner (D-Mercer) testifies during today’s Senate voting session.

TRENTON — Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley Turner that would allow people to return to work on a part-time basis and collect disability benefits cleared the Senate today. The bill would allow temporarily disabled workers to transition back to work while saving the state money.

“The state’s Temporary Disability Insurance program only provides for benefits during the time a worker is completely unable to work due to a disability. Current law doesn’t recognize that some employees can work on a limited basis as they transition back to full-time employment,” said Turner (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “By allowing people to get back to work, first on a part-time basis, the state will save money in reduced disability payments.”

Under the bill, S-1770, a worker would only be able to receive part time TDI benefits after the worker has been completely unable to work due to disability and has received full TDI benefits for at least seven days. There would be a cap of eight weeks for the partial benefit, and employers would be allowed to offer the part-time benefit but not required.

Currently, the TDI law provides for benefits only during the time that the worker is completely unable to work due to the disability.  The bill would provide that the amount of the part-time TDI benefit is the full-time TDI benefit amount minus the wages paid to the worker during a week.

“This bill is common sense,” said Turner. “Employees who want to get back to work but can’t do it full-time would have the option of transitioning back to work first on a part-time basis. This will aid employers who will have the benefit of the employee back in the workplace contributing to the workload.”

In 2009, the state Auditor presented a report to the Legislature regarding TDI benefits. The audit made various findings and suggested opportunities for cost savings, including a recommendation that the state look into implementing a partial return to work program to reduce payments to claimants.

The bill is based on a partial TDI benefit program implemented in Rhode Island in 2007.  It is reported that the program resulted in savings of $977,000 for that state’s TDI fund during its first 18 months of operation.  A majority of both employers and employees surveyed at that time found the program beneficial.

The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 37-0. It is scheduled for a vote in the Assembly later today.

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