Workers compensation benefits: $120 Million Return to Work Fund
We are all aware of the devastating effect that SB 863 has had on workers’ compensation benefits, especially with respect to injured workers’ access to medical treatment. One of the few concessions for injured workers that came out of SB 863 was the implementation of Labor Code Section 139.48. This section created the Return to Work (RTW) Supplement Program which is funded annually in the amount of $120 million in order to provide supplemental payments for workers whose permanent disability benefits are disproportionately low.
On April 13, 2015, the RTW Supplement Program regulations finally went into effect. (reg. 17300-17310). The program is based on the findings of studies done by RAND in February of 2014 entitled “Identifying Permanently Disabled Workers with Disproportionate Earnings Losses for Supplemental Payments.”
Eligibility for the program funds is simple enough, an injured worker must have sustained an industrial injury on or after 1/1/13 and must have received a supplemental job displacement benefit voucher for that injury pursuant to LC Sec 4658.7. Under Reg 17308, the amount of the payment from the fund is $5,000 to an eligible injured worker. However, there is a strict deadline for our clients to file the Application for the RTW program benefit and they have to apply for it electronically.
The deadline for our clients to apply is within one year from April 13, 2015 or within a year of when the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits (SJDB) voucher was served on the injured worker, whichever occurs later. Also, for SJDB vouchers issued after May 13, 2015, the carrier has to attach notice, along with the voucher, to the injured worker explaining his or her eligibility for benefits under the RTW fund program. (reg. 17303)
So what about clients who received their voucher before May 13, 2015? There is nothing in the regulations that requires Defendant to inform the injured worker about his or her right to the RTW program benefit. If you have a client who sustained an industrial injury after 1/1/13 and has already received a supplemental job displacement benefit voucher for that injury, they need to be advised that they have until April 13, 2016 to apply for this $5,000 payment from the RTW program fund.
In order to apply to get the RTW program payment, the application must be submitted online only (no paper submissions) and will require a computer, scanner and printer. Also, our clients have to submit the application for payment on their own, there is no provision allowing for the application to be filed by their attorney. If your client doesn’t have access to a computer, scanner and printer, they’ll have to travel to their nearest Department of Workers Compensation (DWC) district office to use the computer in order to submit the application for the funds. You can find the office nearest you by clicking here: DWC office locator.
Most importantly, they need a copy of the actual SJDB voucher they have received in order to submit the application. The one year statute does not start to run until they were served with the voucher.
If the injured worker’s application for the RTW program payment is rejected by the Director, he or she can appeal that determination to the WCAB. (reg. 17309)
It has been almost 3 years since the passage of SB 863, and some of the regulations that were ordered to go into effect two years ago have only recently been implemented. One of the most intriguing sets of the new regulations involved the creation of the Return to Work Supplement Program. All of us likely have clients who are currently eligible for this $5,000 payment under the fund, but the clock is ticking on those who already received their voucher prior to April 13th of this year.