Workers Comp Zone


The California Department of Industrial Relations has recently done two presentations on the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit (SJDB) program. Slides were presented at the June 2018 and September 2018 meetings of CHSWC (see link to the slides at the end of this post).

A brief history of retraining benefits for California injured workers is in order. Years ago California provided an unrestricted vocational rehab benefit. Successive reforms trimmed that back to a benefit capped at $16,000 and then to the SJDB voucher program with a $6,000 maximum. 2012 reforms added a $5,000 payment called the RTWSP for those who are voucher eligible. That program has been under-utilized.

The impetus for the recent studies of the SJDB by the DIR was a February 8, 2018 letter from Senator Ricardo Lara (see link below). While praising the intent of the SJDB program and acknowledging its importance, Lara’s letter raised some pointed questions about anecdotal reports of abuse in the administration of  SJDB vouchers.

Key findings of the June 2018 study appear to be as follows:

• The percentage of injured workers who have some degree of permanent disability who also receive a SJDB is slightly rising (from 2.3% in 2011 to 5.02% in 2014)

• Just over half of SJDB recipients receive the full $6,000. The average was $4,600 in 2013-2014

• A significant percentage of recipients are likely to be minorities (43% live in a zip code with low English literacy and 31% in a zip that has low internet access). Labor and maintenance occupations were the primary sources of workers who received an SJDB.

The presentation at the September 2018 CHSWC meeting was done by Amy Coombe of the DIR. 

The slides do not delve into the specifics of the anecdotal reports of voucher misuse cited by Lara.

Instead, the slides present the results of a DIR survey of eligible injured workers. Apparently over 12,000 workers who met SJDB eligibility requirements were invited to participate in the survey.

Only 90 completed surveys. 63 of those actually received a SJDB voucher.

In my recent post on a preliminary report by RAND on its treatment access study, I expressed concern about the small survey sample RAND was using.

The DIR survey rate of return is even worse. 12,000 study invites and responses from 63 recipients seems like a pitiful ratio. If nothing else, there needs to be more robust followup on these sorts of studies if the comp community is to take them seriously.

Be that as it may, 33% (i.e. 33% of 63 recipients) were still in training, 25% of the 63 recipients thought the training was helpful and were using the skills but not yet employed, 25% did not complete the training, 10% completed it but did do feel it was helpful, and 6% reported already getting a job using the skills gained.

The DIR report raised the question as to whether a straightforward cash transfer might be more helpful than training. Apparently over half of the 63 respondents in the survey indicated cash would be their preference.

To me this is not surprising. Outside the workers’ comp arena we are now seeing more ink devoted to advocates of a guaranteed income. Pundits from different parts of the political spectrum seem to be questioning retraining programs and advancing theories that cash transfers may be the best thing for the unemployed or under-employed.

The DIR notes that “In current form, the benefit may not be producing intended results for permanently disabled workers, namely workforce re-entry”.

They also note that: “While a body of evidence supports conditional and unconditional cash transfer as an efficient and effective means of benefit delivery, an examination of the literature produced a dearth of evidence regarding the effectiveness of VET for helping permanently disabled workers re-enter the workforce.” As a result, they call for more research in this area.

As noted by CHWSC commissioner Bagan, it may be preferable to teach someone how to fish rather than to just hand them fish. On the hand, the retraining voucher has been shrunk drastically due to the various comp reforms.  It may be that it is shrunken to the point it mostly fails to provide sufficient vocational counseling and training to workers so they can get on their feet.

The September 2018 DIR study also documents continuing problems with the “uptake” (i.e. participation) in the RTWSP $5,000 program. Many of the surveyed workers did not apply despite being eligible because they did not know about the benefit or had problems navigating the application.

The February 2018 study request by Senator Lara is here:

The DIR slides on the SJDB shown at the September CHSWC meeting can be seen here:

Here are the DIR slides on the SJDB presented at the June 2018 CHSWC meeting: