Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, and the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee have cleared one obstacle in the path of disabled workers who want to retain disability benefits after failing to return to work at a qualified employer.
Under the plan, public employees who were forced to leave a job because of a disability but tried to return to work and failed, would still be eligible disability benefits. Previous to this legislation, in what Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho (PERSI) Director Don Drum calls the "black hole of disability," public employees failing in bids to return to work made themselves ineligible to receive their disability benefits. Drum said that because the benefit is "pretty good," his office has placed tight restrictions on it. PERSI has 861 individuals who now receive the disability benefit, though Drum noted that the process of reapplying for benefits in this manner has only been attempted 5-15 times in the past.
Burgoyne said the issues came up last year when a public employee disqualified herself for her disability benefit because she attempted to return to work. He said that she failed in the try, but wound up losing the money because of the tight guidelines. The worker eventually, with the help of attorney, was reinstated to benefit eligibility by the PERSI board.
Those attempting to re-qualify would face stringent guidelines, noted Burgoyne. Before returning to the job, a worker would be required to notify the director of PERSI, who would immediately cut the benefit. That person would then have 150 days to re-apply for the benefit should they be unsuccessful in the attempt to return to work.
If that worker decides to apply for reinstatement of the benefit, PERSI would be able to require applicants to submit to a physical examination, as well as a re-assessment process by a third-party used by the office. Applicants could also be asked to submit medical records associated with the disability to the board. Burgoyne said that "if the person refuses to provide the medical records, it is proof the person is not disabled" and that person would be disqualified from the benefit.
Drum noted the cost of each reassessment to PERSI is approximately $1,000, though, under Burgoyne's plan, the applicant would be obligated to pay for the physical examinations, as well as any costs associated with procurement and transferral of medical records to the state.
The new legislation would not revoke the benefit of disabled workers who volunteer their time in state offices or jobs. According to Burgoyne, only those receiving regular pay for their work would have their benefits revoked. The requirements for reinstatement would also prohibit applicants from receiving benefits for new disabilities suffered during the failed return to work. Only the original disability would qualify a person for reinstatement to the benefit.
Legislators passed the measure on a unanimous vote and it now heads to the full House for approval.