Editorial: ‘Oh, my back!’ - confronting disability fraud

Posted 11/16/18

There is one notion of public employee disability pay and pensions — the one that ought to be and once was. General Treasurer Seth Magaziner put it simply and well: “The disability …

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Editorial: ‘Oh, my back!’ - confronting disability fraud

Posted

There is one notion of public employee disability pay and pensions — the one that ought to be and once was. General Treasurer Seth Magaziner put it simply and well: “The disability pension system is meant to support public employees who can no longer support themselves as the result of a permanent disability.”

And then there is the seamy side of the public employee “disability,” the too-often farce that sets firefighters, police and others, seemingly by the battalion, up for life with most generous disability pay, then pension, no taxes deducted.

Every time some nosy reporter discloses it, lawmakers feign outrage. And then it happens again.

Most recently, WPRI-TV reporter Tim White revealed that 23 of the state’s 179 sheriffs are presently out collecting disability for injuries real or otherwise at a taxpayer cost in the millions. In contrast, only three of 226 state troopers are out on disability.

Loopholes, apparently snuck past complicit (or sleepy) state contract negotiators, enable sheriffs to collect for 18 months, and then collect some more with worker’s comp, before being forced back to work or into disability retirement. While these walking wounded are out, their replacements collect overtime and courts are backed up.

Anyone who has witnessed sheriffs at work might wonder how this can be. True, there is the occasional prisoner scuffle, but mostly this job entails prodigious amounts of standing around.

Last year, Gov. Gina Raimondo tried to get the General Assembly to change rules that are skewed so sharply in the sheriffs’ favor. The legislature would have none of it. This year she vows to try again.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, whose support in these towns is tepid at best, could demonstrate that his priorities are, as he insists, with the taxpayer rather than the unions and special interests, by wielding some leadership here.

More obscene even than what the sheriffs are pulling is the fact that these things just keep turning up. And they will until lawmakers do something about it.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.