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spouse’s workers’ compensation benefits could double costs

A bill has passed the New Jersey Legislature and could become law pending Governor Chris Christie’s signature that would extend workers’ compensation benefits to widows or widowers of police and emergency personnel. Given the financial conditions of many municipalities, there is concern on the economic impact such an extension would cause for many of these municipalities

The current workers’ compensation law ends those benefits for a spouse of a deceased emergency personnel when they remarry. They receive a lump sum payout equal to about two-years of the workers’ compensation they had been receiving. 

The new legislation would allow them to continue receiving those benefits until their own death. The Office of Legislative Services (OLS) has reported that current spouses who remain unmarried average about $1.85 million in benefits.

Some boroughs are concern with a significant increase in the cost of municipal workers’ compensation premiums, with some suggestions being made that the $400 million in costs could double.

Part of the rationale for the bill is that many surviving spouses want to remarry for religious reasons, but cannot without risking the loss of their benefits. An argument has been made that it is unlikely that many will remarry because few have done so, but it is not the most compelling, as it is based on current conditions and existing numbers may be low because of the loss benefits the spouses would suffer if they remarried.

Others point out that surviving spouses already receive generous benefits and the additional workers’ compensation benefit for life is unnecessary.

Source: South Jersey Times, “Workers’ Compensation bill creates tension between municipalities and state legislators,” Phil Davis, May 30, 2013