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New law supports surviving dependents of NJ public safety workers

Cherry Hill, NJ workers' compensation attorneySurviving dependents of New Jersey public safety workers, like police officers and firefighters, who died due to a workplace injury before 1980, will now get help paying cost of living expenses.

New Jersey Senate Bill 1967 was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy on June 17, 2019 and will ensure an annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) in the weekly workers’ compensation death benefits for the surviving dependents of any public safety worker who died from a workplace injury before 1980.

The bill was co-authored by Chair of the Senate Labor Committee Senator Fred H. Madden Jr. and Senate President Steve Sweeney. The legislation will increase the amount of compensation that beneficiaries receive so that it equals the same percent of the maximum benefit as it did when it was first awarded.

The new law will take effect on July 1, 2019 for fiscal year 2020. Those who are eligible for the COLA increase will be entitled to receive weekly supplemental benefits funded entirely through New Jersey’s Second Injury Fund.

Why did they decide to change the law?

The way the law had been written, those who received workers’ compensation benefits could be cut off from COLA increases if the public safety worker passed away from a workplace injury prior to 1980. This new legislation improves and updates the law so that the dependents of public safety workers who lost their lives due to an on-the-job incident prior to 1980 can keep pace with rising costs and not be tethered to a fixed rate that is antiquated and obsolete.

Other key points about the approved bill include:

  • The legislation will not change current workers’ compensation law that allows for a reduction of benefits if the recipient is already receiving Social Security benefits.
  • COLA increases will not be provided to anyone who qualified for benefits under the Federal Old Age, Survivors and Disability Act but declined to receive them.
  • COLA benefits will not be paid to anyone who is eligible for Social Security benefits and elects not to receive them, or in any case where the COLA would be less than $5 per week.

The Second Injury Fund is projected to pay out an additional $1.1 million in workers’ compensation benefits in 2020 as a result of the legislation, though that amount may be significantly less when considering adjustments for those who already receive Social Security benefits.

To help alleviate the financial impact the new law will have on the workers’ compensation system, 1/3 of the supplemental benefit rate will be paid in fiscal year 2020, 2/3 of the rate paid in fiscal year 2021, and the full amount to be paid during fiscal year 2022 and all subsequent years.

Kotlar, Hernandez & Cohen, LLC is a proud member and supporter of the New Jersey Council on Safety & Health (NJCOSH), which helped champion the approved bill.

How a New Jersey workers’ compensation lawyer can help

Adopting this new legislation demonstrates that New Jersey’s workers’ compensation system is far from perfect and doesn’t always ensure individuals receive the benefits they’re entitled to. Laws regarding workers’ compensation can change, and understanding the impact of those new laws can sometimes be confusing.

An experienced New Jersey workers’ compensation attorney from Kotlar, Hernandez & Cohen, LLC can help you navigate through the often-complex process of receiving worker’s comp benefits. Our board-certified workers’ comp lawyers fight for injured workers in New Jersey, and they have a proven record of getting positive results. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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