Monthly Archives: January 2009
This past December, the Lawrence Journal World ran a story about a worker in Wichita, Delbert Young, who was injured on the job riding a bicycle from building to building at Boeing to stock parts. The article went on to relate how Mr. Young, who is permanently disabled, currently receives $483 a week under Kansas’ Work Comp system; his benefits, however, will run out in a few years once he hits the state’s total disability benefits caps of $125,000.
In recent years, the Legislature has allowed workers compensation to deteriorate until it no longer provides adequate disability protection for working families. Kansans hurt on the job are falling through the cracks and face job loss, diminished health, and financial instability.
Instead of protecting workers, work comp protects insurance companies that delay and deny needed medical care and enjoy outrageous profits at the expense of Kansas businesses and employees. The Legislature must include substantive reform overhauling workers comp in its agenda in order to protect the engine of the economy: Kansas’ workforce.
Additionally, we believe that workers who are injured on the job deserve fair and just compensation. A recent Kansas Supreme Court Case last year dramatically altered the compensation system for injured workers. The Legislature must clarify this law so that Kansas workers receive the compensation they deserve when they are injured on the job.
Another way to honor the lives of hardworking Kansas families is to raise the wrongful death cap. In these difficult economic times, we have a responsibility to protect the family any Kansan who loses his or her life as a result of someone else’s negligence. Though no monetary reward can replace a life, raising the wrongful death cap will enable grieving families to cover funeral expenses and temporarily recover the loss of the victim’s income in the family budget. This prevents yet another family from falling into poverty as a result of unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances beyond their control.
In times of economic hardship, especially in the current downturn that our nation is currently weathering, it would be easy to turn our backs on the financial hardships suffered by those Kansas workers and their families who have been seriously injured or killed on the job. But that’s also why it is more important now more than ever to be sure that we are taking care of those workers who have sacrificed for Kansas commerce.
It is amazing how quickly things can change in the span of a few years. Looking back to summer of 2007, the New York Stock Exchange’s Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) was near its all-time high (14,000.41 on July 19th, 2007). Home prices, while softening somewhat, were still in the stratosphere. The U.S. unemployment rate was 4.7%. And the Kansas State General Fund ending balance for fiscal year 2007 was over $750 million. Subsequently, as we all know too well, Kansans have lost money in their investments and homes, some of us are losing our jobs, and the Kansas State General Fund budget is now awash in red ink. We will have tough economic challenges for several months, if not years, to come.
Nationally, nearly $9 trillion has simply vanished from our economy in 18 months. Americans’ retirement assets have dropped from a high of 10.3 trillion in 2006 to $8 trillion in mid-2008. Savings and investments assets have lost $1.2 trillion while pension assets have lost $1.3 trillion. Total U.S. home equity has dropped from a peak of $13 trillion in mid-2006 to $8.8 trillion in mid-2008. Most disturbingly, for the week of December 8th, 2008, 573,000 first time unemployment claims were filed (the highest level in 26 years), resulting in a December 2008 U.S. unemployment rate of 7.2% This means that more jobs were lost in 2008 than in any year since World War II. Some economists are now predicting 9% or higher U.S. unemployment by the end of 2009.
These national trends are seriously impacting revenue sources for the Kansas state government. Per the November 2008 consensus revenue estimates, the Kansas budget deficit for fiscal year 2009 is now approximately $142 million. Much more ominous, however, is the approximately $1 billion shortfall staring Kansas legislators in the face as they begin putting together the 2010 budget. With no economic relief in sight, the Kansas Legislature will be evaluating all spending programs to determine the least painful way to balance the 2009 and 2010 budgets. It will be critically important to avoid hurting those programs that will help our state’s economy rebound; likewise, legislators must avoid the temptation to simply pass the shortfall onto Kansas cities and counties.