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Proposal would give cash rebates to Ohio employers

Ann Sanner, Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Ohio employers could see $1 billion in cash rebates this summer from the state insurance fund for injured workers under a proposal announced Thursday.

About 210,000 businesses and public employers could see a payout in June or July, should the board of directors at the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation approve the plan. Checks could range from $5 to more than $3 million.

Gov. John Kasich outlined the proposal Thursday at a T-shirt store in Columbus, which could get a $4,000 rebate.

"I would call this one of the most significant economic stimulus measures that you could see," Kasich said. "I think being able to give a billion dollars in cash means there's going to be a heck of a lot more money floating around inside the state of Ohio, and it will be of significant benefit to the employers, particularly the small businesspeople."

Kasich said he was confident the board would sign off on the idea, which is expected to be presented to them this month.

Money for the one-time rebate stems from solid investments by the agency, which provides workers' compensation insurance for Ohio employers and covers about two-thirds of the state's workforce. The agency said its net assets have grown to $8.3 billion.

The rebate is separate from a court dispute over employer payments.

The state is appealing a judge's March decision awarding $860 million in repayments from the fund to employers the judge says were charged excessive premiums for nearly a decade.

Thursday's announcement drew criticism from a group representing the workers in the lawsuit.

"Now is the time for the administration and the Bureau to recognize that it continues to hold on to another $860 million that was illegally charged to 270,000 employers and comply with the court order to repay those funds," Earl Stein, president of Pay Us Back Ohio BWC Inc., said in a statement. Stein is also a plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit.

Steve Buehrer, the bureau's administrator and CEO, told reporters the money involved in the lawsuit has been set aside. And, he said, "We believe our arguments are just, and we'll continue appeals as long as we feel fit."

Under Kasich's proposal, the bureau would also increase the amount of money for safety grants to $15 million from $5 million. The bureau's grant program provides matching funds to employers who purchase equipment to reduce injuries or illnesses on the job.

In addition, the bureau is asking the Legislature to approve an overhaul how it bills its employers. And the agency says the changes would result in rate cuts of 2 percent for private employers and 4 percent for public employers.

Employers currently pay their workers' compensation premium for the previous six months of coverage. The agency wants to move to "prospective" billing, so it can collect employer premiums for an upcoming policy period.

The bureau says it would ask its board for a $900 million credit for employers to help with the transition to the new billing system.