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6/17/2004

Senate passes measure to ensure sick weapons workers get paid

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Senate approved a plan Wednesday to have the government, not federal contractors, compensate Cold War-era nuclear weapons workers sickened from exposure to toxic substances while on the job.
The amendment to the Senate defense bill also would transfer the program to the Labor Department. Lawmakers had complained that the Energy Department has paid out only $140,000 in claims since the law establishing the program was passed four years ago. That is despite receiving nearly $100 million from Congress.
“It became clear that the program has not been working as intended and this measure will help correct the situation,” said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The Energy Department helps present and former workers at its weapons plants file claims for lost wages and medical expenses under state compensation programs, but relies on contractors to pay them.
Some of those contractors are no longer in business. Others have purchased worker’s compensation insurance from private companies. The government has no power to compel those insurers to pay claims.
Under the Senate plan, approved by a voice vote, the government would pay the claims once it has evidence a worker’s illness was job-related. Payments would be based on compensation laws in states where claimants worked.