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Department of Labor & Industries Applying a Cost-of-Living Increase

Daily life is getting more expensive in our region. As announced by the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD), the average annual wage in Washington increased by 6.7 percent in the 2019 calendar year—from $65,301 to $69,700. It is the largest one-year increase in Washington in more than two decades.

Washington State Cost of Living

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) uses the state’s average weekly wage to calculate work-related benefits—time-loss, pension, loss-of-earning power benefits, etc.   L&I will apply this 6.7 percent cost-of-living increase as of July 1, 2020. In this article, our Seattle workers’ comp lawyers provide a more comprehensive overview of this year’s cost-of-living adjustment.

Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA): An Overview of the 2020-2021 Benefits Schedule

In recent days, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries released the benefits schedule effective July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021. The state’s average monthly wage increased by the largest percentage since 2000.  This significant COLA ensures that injured workers and their families are able to keep pace with rising prices. Here are five things you should know about L&I’s updated benefits schedule:

  1. A 6.7 Percent Cost-of-Living Increase: Under Washington state law, workers’ comp time loss, pension, and LEP benefits must be recalculated each year to reflect the change in state average wage. On July 1, 2020, L&I will apply a 6.7 percent cost-living-adjustment.  As was mentioned, it is the most significant yearly increase in the last 20 years. For reference, last year’s COLA was 5.5 percent.
  2. Minimum and Maximum Rates are Rising: In accordance with the COLA, minimum and maximum time loss and pension rates are also increasing as of July 1, 2020. The maximum monthly benefit will now be $6,970.00. If you receive the maximum monthly benefit, your benefits could increase in the coming weeks. Similarly, the minimum rate will increase. In Washington, the minimum rate is calculated at 15 percent of the state’s average monthly wage. Under the current schedule, that amount is going up from $816.26 to $871.25. If you receive reduced benefits because of a Social Security offset, however, you may not see an increase in your time loss rate. 
  3. Higher Baseline for Loss of Earning Power (LEP) Calculations: In Washington, a worker who can only work part time because of an industrial injury or occupational illness may be entitled to Loss of Earning Power or LEP benefits. To calculate LEP benefits, claims administrators must use Washington’s average monthly wage—meaning LEP benefits are also subject to a cost-of-living adjustments.
  4. COLA Should Not Require Action: Many workers who are currently getting time-loss benefits will receive an automatic cost-of-living adjustment, meaning those who qualify for it should not have to ask for the adjustment. Unfortunately, mistakes can happen. If you did not receive a cost-of-living adjustment but you believe you should have, contact your claims administrator or L&I for more information.
  5. New Claims COLA Waiting Period: Under Washington law (RCW 51.32.075 (4)), no COLA increase will be made until the second July after the date of an industrial injury or occupational disease. For example, a worker who was injured on the job in February of 2020 will not receive a cost-of-living-adjustment on July 1, 2020. Their first COLA will be on July 1, 2021.

Navigating Washington’s workers’ compensation claims process is complicated. It is easy to feel overwhelmed. At The Walthew Law Firm, we are committed to providing reliable, fully personalized legal guidance to injured workers and their families. If you have any questions or concerns about cost-of-living adjustments or workers’ comp claims in general, our lawyers are here to get you answers.

Schedule a Free Consultation with a Workers’ Compensation Attorneys

At The Walthew Law Firm, we have a comprehensive understanding of Washington’s work injury laws and regulations. For more than 90 years, our workers’ comp lawyers have helped protect the rights and interests of people and their families. To set up a free, completely confidential consultation, please contact our law firm today. We represent injured workers throughout Washington, including in Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue, Everett, Kent, Federal Way, Renton, Kirkland, Auburn, and Redmond.

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