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DISABLED workers wonder how fund could go broke

Updated:
TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A check from the state Multiple Injury Trust Fund is all the income Vickie Stapp gets. So when the fund ran out of money earlier this month, Stapp did, too.

Stapp, 51, said she previously worked in restaurants but has been disabled since 1992. Since then, the Seminole resident has undergone four back surgeries, treatments on her arms, legs and neck and a gall bladder operation.

``When it rains, it pours,'' said Stapp, whose husband suffered a stroke during surgery in March. ``And we're going through one hellacious thunderstorm.

``How are the people who have been promised this money supposed to survive and pay their utilities and everyday expenses when this is their only means of support?''

As many as 2,000 disabled workers received their last check during the week of June 10, along with notice that the fund was broke.

The next deposit to the trust fund is due around July 9, trust special counsel Richard Cole said.

``We just don't know when we'll be able to make another payment,'' Cole said.

The workers wonder why they were given such short notice about the funding shortfall, but more importantly, why state leaders did not something about it.

The Legislature ``should have never left until it was resolved,'' said Davis Roberts, of Cushing. ``That was the biggest crock I have ever seen.''

Roberts, 37, of Cushing, said he owes his workers compensation attorney $25,000 and turns over every fifth trust fund check to the lawyer. Now he can't pay until the checks resume.

State Rep. Larry Ferguson, R-Cleveland, criticized fellow lawmakers for not having funding in place for the fund, but for having ``enough money to put a dome on the state Capitol.''

``These injured workers have little, if any, political clout. But legally and morally the state of Oklahoma has an obligation to honor the commitments it has made to these people,'' Ferguson said Thursday.

Problems with the fund are not new. The trust fund has been underfunded since 1987, Cole said.

The State Insurance Fund, which provides workers compensation insurance to private companies and state agencies, has loaned $44 million to the Multiple Injury Trust Fund since last year to pay 5,000 delinquent claims filed by workers with permanent partial disabilities.

The trust fund has been more than five years behind in paying those worker compensation claims. The loans will be repaid over a 30-year period at 7 percent interest.

Lawmakers tried to improve the trust fund's cash flow, but it only produced half the money the trust needed. The State Insurance Fund's Board of Managers decided in May not to lend the trust fund any more money until it improves its cash flow.

The State Insurance Fund could approve a dividend payment to its policyholders on Tuesday when the board of managers meet. State law requires a dividend for state agencies to be diverted to the Multiple Injury Trust Fund.

Legislators also could deal with the issue during its special legislative session next month, or Gov. Frank Keating could tap the state's ``rainy day'' reserve fund for the money.

Keating has said he wants long-term solutions to be tied to further reforms in the state workers compensation court system.

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