Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) pressed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to ensure that postal reform legislation does not result in cuts to the benefits that hundreds of disabled elderly Minnesotans count on each month.
"We have serious concerns with the provisions in the 21st Century Postal Reform Act that would cut benefits to elderly disabled employees, including retroactive changes that will reduce benefits for many who are already injured," wrote Sen. Franken and eight of his colleagues in a letter to Sen. Reid. "We must be extremely cautious when making cuts to benefits that could harm employees who were disabled by injuries sustained in service to their country, especially elderly disabled employees."
The full text of today's letter, which Sen. Franken wrote with Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Mark Begich (D-Alaska), is below.
The Honorable Harry Reid
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Reid:
As you know, we have serious concerns with the provisions in the 21st Century Postal Reform Act (S.1789) that would make government-wide changes to the federal workers' compensation program (FECA). These provisions would cut benefits to elderly disabled employees, including retroactive changes that will reduce benefits for many who are already injured.
The sponsors of this bill argue that changes to FECA benefits must be included in this legislation to place the Postal Service on a sound financial footing. However, according to CBO, these changes contribute nothing to the Postal Service's financial solvency in the next five years. In fact, through 2016, the changes would result in a net increase of $10 million in Postal Service costs. In total, these benefit cuts would save the Postal Service a total of $397 million over ten years, or less than 8 percent of the Postal Service's $5.1 billion deficit last year.
Everyone understands that the Postal Service is in the midst of a serious financial crisis that must be addressed. This is the only provision in the legislation that is not specific to the Postal Service. Putting even a fraction of the cost of the Postal Service's financial crisis on the backs of our injured federal employees is not the answer. Changing the workers' compensation system for disabled workers government-wide creates many complicated issues that must be resolved to ensure elderly disabled employees are not unfairly harmed. Given the Postal Service's immediate financial needs, we think those issues should be worked out in separate legislation to avoid delaying this bill.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is currently conducting a review of both pre- and post-retirement age FECA benefits to determine fair benefit amounts at the request of a bipartisan group of members from the House Committee on Education and Workforce. The outcome of this review would help inform any changes to FECA benefits. Without the results of this GAO review we do not have the information we need to decide on fair benefit levels. There are too many complex issues related to the appropriate benefit levels that deserve more analysis. We must be extremely cautious when making cuts to benefits that could harm employees who were disabled by injuries sustained in service to their country, especially elderly disabled employees.
Many employee groups strongly oppose the FECA provisions in this bill, including the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO); the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO; the American Foreign Service Association; the American Postal Workers' Union, AFL-CIO; the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association; Federally Employed Women; the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, AFL-CIO; the National Active and Retired Federal Employees; the National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO; the National Postal Mail Handlers Union; the National Rural Letter Carriers' Union; the National Treasury Employees Union; the Organization of Professional Employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, AFL-CIO.
While the sponsors have been working with other Senators to address concerns with various postal provisions in the bill, they have been unwilling to discuss any compromises on the FECA provisions in the bill. On November 29, 2011, the House passed a Republican-led, bipartisan FECA reform bill (H.R. 2465) by voice vote. This bill makes a number of common-sense reforms that will improve program efficiency and integrity. The bipartisan sponsors of this bill chose to forgo any changes to benefits without more information on appropriate benefit levels and we believe the Senate should do the same. We believe the bipartisan House-passed bill could serve as a basis for compromise on this issue.
We believe that any changes to benefits should be done in a careful, comprehensive manner and that, at the very least, we should not decrease benefits to those who are already enrolled in the program and have been promised certain compensation for their injuries, or those disabled employees who will be put into poverty by the benefit reductions. We urge you to work with us to ensure these concerns are addressed.