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Proposed bill would extend benefits for workers' spouses

A bill recently proposed in the New Jersey state legislature would extend the eligibility of widows and widowers of emergency workers to continue to receive workers' compensation benefits even if they re-marry. The bill has caused controversy, however, as many municipalities claim that it would increase expenses for workers' compensation benefits and, therefore, would be fiscally unsound.

The bill would allow spouses to continue to receive benefits up to the point of their own death. The insurance fund responsible for workers' compensation claims for 60 percent of New Jersey, the Municipal Excess Liability Joint Insurance Fund, has asked towns to pass resolutions opposing the bill, due to the potential for increased costs.

The bill's supporters claim that the bill would prevent the spouses of municipal workers from suffering from financial hardship. One of the bill's co-sponsors claimed that many widows joined religious organizations after their husband's death, and these organizations considered it a sin to not be actively seeking a marriage, causing tension with the widows who wish to keep receiving benefits.

The Joint Insurance Fund claims that the extension is unnecessary, due to the fact that police and firefighter widows are already covered through a life insurance fund, and that they already receive money from the Federal government. The bill's supporters also contend that any increase in costs would be negligible, as only six of the 21 state police surviving widows and seven of the 53 local police widows have re-married.

The debate over this bill helps highlight the dangerous nature of many public occupations. While police and firefighters face many obvious dangers in their occupations, other municipal employees are also prone to workplace accidents and injuries. In their jobs, they must face adverse weather conditions, fire, sewage and other dangerous things that can cause illness, injury or death. For this reason, workers' compensation benefits are especially vital for them and their families.

Anyone injured due to a workplace accident may recover workers' compensation benefits for themselves and their families. These benefits are intended to prevent a workplace accident from throwing a family into destitution. Any worker injured on the job or their families may still receive an income to support themselves, despite their inability to work.

Source: South Jersey Times, "Workers' compensation bill creates tension between municipalities and state legislators," Phil Davis, May 30, 2013.

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Gary D. Ginsberg is a Certified Civil Trial Lawyer who has been recognized as an expert in litigating cases in the courts of New Jersey.

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