After three years of delayed implementation, and another four years of what can only be described as a slow roll-out, the Return-to-Work Fund still hasn't paid out the full $120 million allocated annually for injured workers and has yet to break $100 million in any given year.
California's Return-to-Work Supplement Program (RTWSP) is a benefit which was created as a compromise between employers and labor with the passage of Senate Bill 863 in 2012.
The program was to be funded at $120 million per year and provide a one-time $5,000 payment to workers who cannot return to their at-injury employment following a workplace injury.
Below are the yearly disbursements, obtained from the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR):
- FY 2015 - 433 claims paid out a total of $2,165,000
- FY 2016 - 8,116 claims paid out a total of $40,580,000
- FY 2017 - 15,036 claims paid out a total of $75,180,000
- FY 2018 - 18,414 claims paid out a total of $92,070,000
- FY 2019 - 18,972 claims paid out a total of $94,860,000 (preliminary)
As evidenced by the numbers, the RTWSP has yet to reach its full potential, letting insurance companies off the hook for $305 million so far.
A study by RAND recommended an automatic process for payment of the Return to Work benefit to increase access to and delivery of the RTWSP, which CAAA had argued for since its creation.
Last legislative session, CAAA supported Assembly Bill 553, a Teamsters-sponsored bill that would have established a system to review payments made to workers annually, calculate remaining monies and then distribute those funds on a pro rata basis to those injured workers who received a payment from the Fund the prior year. Essentially, it would ensure the fund was disbursed in full each year, but the bill was vetoed by Governor Brown on the basis of the program being "relatively new."
The fund was created in 2012, with first payments being distributed in 2015. It took over three years for any type of notice to be provided to workers of their eligibility to apply for the Return to Work Supplement on the Supplemental Job Displacement Voucher form, and another year before DIR contemplated serious outreach.
The program is no longer new, but it seems to have been forgotten. It's time the DIR takes the necessary steps to ensure injured workers receive their just benefits and pay out the fund in full each year.