Sarasota, FL (workersCompensation.com) – A GoFundMe campaign for the family of a recently killed police officer was nearing its $40,000 goal. Part of the money is intended to help pay the future college expenses of the officer’s 12-year-old son.
The situation sounds like it was right out of the playbook for an organization designed to help such children. But connecting the charity and the child is often not as easy or seamless as it might seem.
A favorite charity among many in the workers’ compensation space, Kids Chance provides post-secondary scholarships to dependent children of workers who have been killed or severely injured in a work-related accident or occupational disease. But raising the money is only half the battle. Due to privacy and other concerns, identifying and contacting potential beneficiaries is as, or sometimes even more difficult. A couple of states have recently worked with their state legislatures to overcome that barrier.
Identifying Eligible Candidates
“As there are no definitive sources for names of injured workers’ children that would qualify for scholarships, the states have to be very creative,” said Ken Martino, president of Kids Chance of America and CEO of Medrisk LLC. “It starts with the states establishing websites that can be accessed on-line providing information to potential candidates. They also send material to state organizations for guidance counselors. In addition, we/they get information out to adjusters and case managers working the workers’ compensation claims to ask them to provide information to potential candidates.”
A National Awareness week campaign gets information out to industry professionals to make them aware of the organization’s mission. Volunteers from the various state chapters also attend state, regional and national workers’ compensation conferences to try to get the word out.
These and other resourceful methods must be used to overcome the barriers of getting information to potentially eligible recipients.
“We have tried to work with state agencies that collect information to gain access to information on the children of injured workers but they all cite privacy rules and regulations in the state that do not allow them to provide the information,” Martino said. “We have worked with the states to try to change this but it requires legislative or regulatory changes that are very difficult to change even though it is for a good cause.”
Two states have recently been able to persuade lawmakers to do just that, however.
Kids chance of Nevada worked with lawmakers to overcome the challenge. “The Division of Industrial Relations knows who all of the kids receiving death benefits are,” said Jim Werbeckes, the current Past President of the chapter and VP of Government & Regulatory Affairs at EMPLOYERS. “We made a request for them to send some information to these kids to let them know we’re here and we can help. The DIR came back and said they didn’t have the legislative authority to do that.”
Werbeckes was instrumental in getting the legislature to pass Assembly Bill 455. It gives the DIR the authority to send information out about nonprofit organizations.
“It allows our DIR to disseminate information on our behalf,” said Rosemarie McMorris, president of Kids Chance of Nevada and Claims Operations manager at Sedgwick. “For confidentiality reasons they can’t give us the contact information. On our behalf they went in, if they know of a permanent-total or death claim, then they send a letter on our behalf. We drafted a letter, sent it to the state, and it’s sent to people that insurers or TPAs have claims on.”
As the law was just enacted, it’s not yet clear how effective it will be. However, there have been additional applications since. The Nevada chapter undertakes the same efforts as other chapters, such as targeting workers’ compensation stakeholders and others to make sure they are informed about the scholarship money available.
“We also make sure our Board is diversified,” McMorris said. “I want somebody with a defense counsel firm, and on [a plaintiff] firm so they can let the injured worker or his family know there’s an organization like this. We try to make sure there’s [someone from] a brokerage. I’m part of a TPA, some of them are in insurance. If it’s diversified, you can get the word out to different sectors.”
McMorris said she also encourages Board members to take advantage of opportunities such as Kids Chance Awareness week, and Workers’ Compensation Memorial Day to share their thoughts on their social media pages “so the word spreads out to more people.”
The Montana chapter of Kids Chance also looked to the state legislature for help.
“States always struggle with trying to find people who could be recipients,” said Peter J. Van Nice, president of the Montana chapter and Operations Bureau chief for the state’s Department of Labor and Industry. “The legislative change we got done is so when a worker gets hurt, we send out information from the Department on workers’ compensation benefits. The legislation allows us to put information on a pamphlet, ‘if you’ve been injured,’ or are the spouse [of a worker killed], ‘additional benefits are provided by non-profit organizations.’ So we were allowed to put the information there too.”
The scholarship money doesn’t kick in until the child is nearing college age, such as 16. For potential beneficiaries who are younger, the Kids Chance chapters stay in touch.
“There was a person working on a highway killed and left 4 kids,” Nice said. They are 4, 7, 9 and 12. We’ll be tracking them for a while.”
Once a child becomes a beneficiary, they must maintain a certain academic standard and must reapply for money each quarter. “We follow up to make sure they know the deadlines and where they are at,” McMorris said, “see if they are struggling with anything that we may be able to help with.”
The national chapter of Kids Chance helps state chapters where it can. For example, it helps states develop their websites to attract more potential beneficiaries. The last thing the organization wants is for money to be left on the table.
“I wouldn’t say there is a lot of money that does not get distributed on an annual basis. I would say in general, the states do a good job of getting the word out and using the funds available to support the kids. They will provide larger scholarships if money is available at the state level,” Martino said. “We also provide a safety net at the national level if the state has a last minute applicant and has already distributed their funds, for Kids Chance of America to provide an emergency grant to help support the student that may have come in late to the program. We try to put every dollar to work on an annual basis.”