What is the Return to Work Fund?
If you were injured after 01/01/2013, if your permanent disability prevents you from going back to your job and your employer doesn’t provide you with some work that you can do, then you are entitled to some benefits in addition to your Permanent Disability (PD) benefits. You may have a rather small “percentage of disability” with small PD benefits and yet have work restrictions that prevent you from returning to the job you were doing when you were injured. During the last round of “reforms” of the system some groups who were concerned for injured workers pointed out to the legislators who were on the verge of passing Governor Brown’s “reform” bill that some people might be in just that situation, small PD benefits and no job. The bill was not going to pass so the Governor added to the bill a provision for $120 million which was supposed to help people in that situation. Like all major workers’ compensation reform bills, this one was passed in the middle of the night on the last night of the legislative session, so there was nothing in the law that told how the money was to be distributed.
The administration took a couple of years to come up with rules about how the $120 million was to be distributed. Would we wait until the end of a year and count how many people had not been able to return to work and divide by that number or what? There were complicated solutions and more simple solutions proposed. Eventually, a simple solution was approved. There was an estimate made of how many people annually were displaced from their work due to their work injury and that number was divided into $120 million. The result was that each person who could not return to work would get $5,000.00 from that fund. The fund was specifically created to be free from any attorney fee. A system was set up to apply on line only and the proof that a worker needed to present in order to claim the $5,000.00 was the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit (SJDB) or “voucher.” (See below).
The online application process was supposedly facilitated by installing computer “kiosks” at all WCAB offices so that people who did not have a computer could use those computers to apply for their benefit from the Return to Work Fund. Unfortunately, some of these kiosks have signs on them that say things like “Do Not Touch,” which makes it a little confusing. Luckily, there are other alternatives. Some vocational rehabilitation counselors who are already familiar with the voucher system are also willing to help workers obtain their $5,000.00 benefit from the Return to Work fund.
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It took 2 years for the Administration to come up with rules about how to use that Fund and then it has not been well publicized (some would say on purpose) and as a result the number of people who have applied so far is much less than the estimated amount and so very little of the $200 million has been used. The Fund was supposed to get $120 million every year for displaced workers, but now there is agitation in the Legislature to only replace what is used rather than put in another $120 million.
If you are entitled to benefits from the Return to Work Fund, be sure to apply for them. It is $5,000.00, no strings attached, from the State of California, not your employer or their workers’ compensation insurance company. You are entitled to this benefit if you are entitled to a Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit.
What is the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit (SJDB)?
Before 01/01/2013 a person who could not return to work was entitled to a voucher that could be used to pay for vocational re-training. The amount of the voucher depended on the level of permanent disability (PD). They ranged from “up to $2,000.00” to “up to $8,000.00.” They could be settled for cash, usually in an amount less than their potential value and they had no expiration date. The last “reform” simplified this process.
For injuries occurring on or after 01/01/2013 anyone who is not taken back to work within 60 days of being found to have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) is entitled to a SJDB in the total amount of $6,000.00. This amount includes $1,000.00 which can be used to purchase a computer and $500.00 which is essentially cash to use as you see fit to help you return to work. A small percentage can be used to pay a vocational rehabilitation counselor to help you find an appropriate school. The balance is used to pay for schooling. None of the amount of the SJDB can go to attorney fees and it cannot be settled for cash. You must use it or lose it and there is an expiration date.
The old vouchers were not issued until the case was settled. The current SJDB is supposed to be issued if your employer does not offer you a job you can do within 60 days after any doctor declares that all your injuries have reached Maximum Medical Improvement, but the doctor is supposed to complete a form describing what your work limitations are. You can start training even if the settlement of your case drags out for a long time. If your employer does offer you a job within your restrictions and you refuse it, then you won’t be eligible for this benefit.
If you think you are eligible for this benefit, be sure to remind your doctor to complete the form when he releases you. We strongly recommend that you find a vocational rehabilitation counselor who is familiar with the process of obtaining and using the voucher. Your attorney can recommend a counselor to you.