Ohio may deny benefits to undocumented workers hurt on the job

Undocumented workers injured on the job should be denied medical coverage and lost wages under Ohio’s worker compensation program, according to some Republican lawmakers.

State Reps. Larry Householder and Bill Seitz introduced a bill this month to bar undocumented workers from receiving benefits though the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation system. A similar provision was removed from the BWC budget bill earlier this year.

“The fact of the matter is they’re undocumented. They’re here illegally,” said Householder, R-Glenford, former House speaker. “We just feel that it’s a burden on our compensation system and it’s a burden on the state of Ohio.”

There is no data on how many undocumented workers are receiving benefits because the BWC does not track that information, said BWC spokesman Bill Teets. The agency does not take positions on pending legislation.

Householder said businesses shouldn’t be hiring undocumented workers in the first place. If an illegal immigrant is injured on the job, the employer should face liability for the medical expenses — not the state insurance system, he said.

Mike Shields of Policy Matters Ohio, a left-leaning think tank, said the bill would give unscrupulous employers financial incentives to hire undocumented workers. They wouldn’t have to pay for workers’ comp premiums on them and if they’re injured on the job, no claim would be marked against them in the BWC system, Shields said.

Related: Ohio elected officials may face charges if illegal immigrant kills someone

“These are some of the most vulnerable workers in the state,” he said. Lacking BWC coverage, injured undocumented workers would likely seek treatment at hospital emergency rooms where the tab is picked up by the hospitals and taxpayers, Shields said.

Taking away workers’ comp for undocumented workers has been introduced in the General Assembly several times in the past eight years. Most recently, a similar provision was removed from the BWC budget bill last June by the Ohio Senate. It was opposed by the ACLU of Ohio, Ohio Association of Justice, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Ohio AFL-CIO and other groups.

Related: Senate drops plan on injury benefits for undocumented workers

The Ohio BWC is a state insurance fund that takes premiums from 244,000 employers and pays out about $1.6 billion a year to cover medical bills and lost wages for workers hurt on the job. The BWC, which has a $29 billion investment portfolio, has about 750,000 open claims.

Since 2011, Ohio BWC has been in good enough shape that it gave out $3 billion in rebates to employers, engineered a $1 billion give-back when it changed its billing system, and cut premiums by $2 billion.

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