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End of Remarriage Penalty

State: NY

Legislature Considering Repeal of Remarriage Penalty: 


By Michael Whiteley, Eastern Bureau Chief


New York claimants' attorneys and a union are pushing lawmakers to extend lifetime benefits to the spouses of all workers who die from work-related accidents and illnesses by repealing a century-old law requiring lump-sum payments when those spouses remarry.


The New York Workers' Compensation Alliance and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) are calling on the New York Legislature to approve Senate 4090, filed by Senate Labor Committee Chairwoman Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, on March 8. Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright, D-Harlem, former chairman of the Assembly Labor Committee, filed Assembly 6559, an identical measure, on April 9. 

The bills would repeal a section of the New York Workers' Compensation Law that requires final lump-sum payments to spouses equal to two years of benefits when those spouses remarry. The bills are pending in the Senate and Assembly Labor committees.

Proponents argue that the remarriage penalty is outdated.

"The law was originally put in place in the early 1900s when most women didn't work and a widow had no other means of support, other than to remarry," said Art Wilcox, a consultant for Utility Workers Local 1-2. "These are much different times."

Barbara O'Neill, staff director for thief Senate Labor Committee, said Tuesday the committee has scheduled S 4090 for a hearing on June 3. She said Savino hopes to win approval for the legislation in the Assembly and Senate before lawmakers adjourn the regular 2013 session on June 20.

O'Neill said the Labor Committee is awaiting an estimate of the bill's fiscal impact. None was available on Tuesday.

The New York State Workers' Compensation law sets death benefits for spouses at up to two-thirds of the average weekly wage if the worker died after Jan., 1, 1978, 40% of the workers' average weekly wage if the worker died between July 1, 1948, and Jan. 1, 1978, and 30% of the worker's average weekly wage if the worker died prior to July 1, 1948. The benefits are paid over the spouse's lifetime unless he or she remarries.

Benefits are capped at two-thirds of the statewide average weekly wage.

The benefits are divided among the spouse and any dependent children under the age of 18, or under the age of 23 if they are attending college. Dependent children considered legally blind or otherwise disabled are also entitled to a share of the benefits.

Survivors' benefits also are subject to an offset of up to 50% of survivor benefits that widows and widowers receive from the Social Security Administration.

Robert Grey, chairman of the Workers' Compensation Alliance, argues that the current law is discouraging spouses from remarrying.

Lev Ginsburg, government affairs director for the Business Council of New York State, said the employers' group is reviewing the legislation, but has not yet taken a position.

"We have sent inquiries to some of our employer members trying to get a sense of how many of their claims these bills may effect, but we haven't heard back," Ginsburg said. "At this point, we just don’t know how many claims may be involved."

New York is not the only state grappling with the appropriate policy for spouses of workers who are killed on the job.

On April 29, the New Jersey Legislature voted final passage of Senate Bill 1449, which will provide lifetime benefits to the spouses of firefighters an police officers killed in the line of duty regardless of whether the spouses remarry. Gov. Chris Christie has not acted on the bill.

New Jersey law currently provides for a lump-sum payment of 100 times the weekly benefit when the widow or widower of a first responder killed in the line of duty remarries.

Information on S 4090 is here.

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