Budget Cuts Threaten First Responders Workers Compensation Benefits
Amid significant budget troubles, the North Carolina General Assembly is considering further cuts to the commonwealth’s volunteer first responders’ workers’ compensation funds. However, failure to properly fund the program could result in significant, permanent changes to the system that provides important benefits to first responders injured in dangerous lines of duty.
The Volunteer Safety Workers’ Compensation Fund was established in the North Carolina Department of Insurance to provide workers’ compensation benefits to volunteer fire fighters, rescue workers and emergency medical services providers in local communities. Members of the fund – who are not paid employees covered by local governments’ workers’ compensation policies – pay premiums for the insurance coverage, although a significant portion of the funding is supplied by appropriations from the state’s general revenues fund.
According to Insurance Journal, Paul Miller, executive director of the North Carolina State Firemen’s Association, stated that the fund was originally designed to receive $4.5 million from the state over 7 years, until the fund would become self-sustaining. Unfortunately, the fund has been the victim of reduced funding for several years, making subsidized funding necessary for longer than intended.
Currently, the House of Representatives’ proposed budget provides the Volunteer Safety Workers’ Compensation Fund with about $1 million. But, Miller and other advocates say the fund needs $2 million to remain viable. Otherwise, the fund must be moved to a different program with higher expenses, using up money that would otherwise pay for equipment, uniforms and training.
If you have been injured on the job or while volunteering as a first responder, contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney in North Carolina to learn more about workers’ compensation and to make a claim for the benefits you deserve.