Topeka Workers compensation payments to injured Kansans have lagged far behind the increasing cost of living, according to a study released Thursday.
The study will be used in the 2009 legislative session to try to persuade lawmakers to increase Kansas workers' comp benefits, which rank among the lowest in the country.
"The Legislature's failure to address this problem for more than two decades is nothing short of disgraceful," said Terry Humphrey, executive director of the Kansas Association of Justice, which is made up of labor groups and lawyers who represent injured workers.
"Legislators routinely pay lip service to the value of our workforce, but if they really believe in supporting the workers of this state, they will fix this problem in 2009," Humphrey said.
The study - "The Eroding Value of Workers Compensation Benefit Cap Levels" - was conducted on behalf of the association by the Kansas University Institute for Policy and Social Research.
In Kansas, benefits are capped for employees who have suffered a range of workplace injuries from being permanently disabled to partially disabled, to having limited impairments. The system also caps death benefits to the families of workers killed on the job.
But the caps on those payments have not increased in years.
For example, the cap for a worker with a permanent and total disability is $125,000 and has not been changed since 1987, the study says.
"As each year goes by, the maximum allowable benefits go less and less far towards supporting an injured worker and her family," the study says.
Benefits capped in 1987 would need to increase 77 percent to adjust to inflation, and 107 percent to keep pace with wage growth, the study said. That means the $125,000 cap on permanent and total disability would need to be $221,455 to keep up with inflation and $258,324 to keep up with wage growth.
A legislative committee is charged with studying workers' comp issues and is expected to make recommendations to the full Legislature which starts its session in January.