Lifton: Governor’s Proposal to Close Workers’ Compensation Service Centers Will Cause Hardship for Workers with Few Budgetary Benefits

August 11, 2008

In a letter to Governor David Paterson, Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D/WF –Tompkins/Cortland) called on the governor to reconsider his recommendation to close the Workers’ Compensation Service Center in Ithaca. It is one of 11 Workers’ Compensation service centers – 10 located in upstate – the governor proposes to shut as a cost-cutting move. The Workers’ Compensation Board operates 30 service centers throughout the state in addition to its 11 district offices.

Closing the Ithaca service center will likely make it more difficult for injured workers to get the help they need, Lifton said. “We would be forcing an injured employee in Tompkins County to make a 50-minute trip to Elmira, which is the closest Workers’ Compensation service center location,” Lifton said. “Someone traveling that distance with a back injury, for example, could be extremely uncomfortable. If that injured worker needed to have someone drive them, then you are talking about added time and inconvenience for the family member or friend, in addition to increased costs for gas. Wait times would also be longer, since more people would be using fewer offices.”

Hiring an attorney to represent an injured worker would also be a problem, Lifton said. “You’re either paying a local attorney additional costs to travel to plead your case or you have to find an attorney in Elmira to represent you, meaning you’re traveling back and forth to see him or her,” Lifton explained. “Not only could the costs get prohibitively expensive, but the situation could possibly reduce an injured employee’s chance of getting proper representation.”

Lifton also questions the governor’s rationale for closing these service centers, since these centers are financed by an assessment levied on insurance companies who issue the insurance to employers.

“The governor wants to reduce budget costs by 3.35 percent and cites these closings as a way to reduce the overall state budget,” Lifton said. “But his proposal would, in fact, do nothing to reduce the state budget, while increasing costs for injured workers. I understand and agree with the governor’s concern about the budget deficit. However, I am certain that by working together we can find more effective means to close the gap.