Minimum weekly pay for New Yorkers who receive workers' compensation benefits will increase under a new state law set to go into effect next year.
Under the Workers' Compensation Benefit Modernization Act, signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul earlier this month, recipients on the lowest end of the wage scale will see weekly minimum benefits increase from $150 to $275 on Jan. 1, and then increase again to $325 in 2025.
Starting in 2026, the weekly minimum will be pegged to one-fifth of the state's average weekly wage. The current weekly average is $1,718.15, according to the state Labor Department.
Under the workers' compensation insurance program, New Yorkers who are unable to work due to workplace injuries can, depending on factors such as their weekly wages and the severity of their disability, receive up to two-thirds of the state's weekly average wage, which adds up to $1,145.43 at the current rate.
That benefit maximum has been indexed to the weekly average wage since 2007, rising as wages have gone up. But the payout at the bottom end of the scale had been static, set at $150 a week since 2013. The new law means the minimum payout will rise with the weekly average wage as well.
One hundred fifty dollars “is not enough to support anybody,” said State Assemb. Latoya Joyner (D-Bronx), chair of the Assembly’s Labor Committee.
“This is keeping it on par with the maximum benefit so that as it goes up, the minimum would do the same,” said Joyner, lead sponsor on the legislation. “It’s going to help workers stay afloat.”
Joyner said the number of workers who might benefit from the change is relatively small, approximately 11,000 statewide. New Yorkers in that group earn so little that an increase in the minimum would have a direct impact on their workers' comp payouts in the event of a workplace accident, she said.
The legislation “is right in line with the governor’s commitment to making New York the most worker-friendly state in the nation," added Clarissa Rodriguez, chair of the state Workers' Compensation Board. "These types of robust protections go a long way toward helping our fellow New Yorkers as they heal and return to work."
Jonathan Klee, an attorney who represents employees in compensation cases, agreed. “This legislation affects the lowest of wage earners who really need these benefits in order to survive,” said Klee, managing partner at Klee Woolf Goldman & Filpi LLP in Mineola.
But business owners said the increases could push costs up as the premiums they are required to pay to fund the insurance program rise.
Insurance premiums are determined by a variety of regulations and factors, including the relative risk or hazardous nature of a job.
“Anything that is going to add benefits is going to add premiums in one of the most restrictive and highest-cost workers' comp areas in the country,” said Scott Maskin, founder of SUNation Energy, an installer of residential solar panels.
Maskin, whose business faces higher insurance premiums due to the potential hazards of rooftop solar installation, said he understands the state's need to address cost-of-living issues, but is worried what this might mean for his company's insurance payments.
“I appreciate the governor’s position, but businesses are already struggling,” he said.