Congress Should Scale Down Redwood Employee Program Benefits

HRD-80-63: Published: Jul 8, 1980. Publicly Released: Jul 8, 1980.

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In March 1978, when Congress added 48,000 acres to the Redwood National Park in northern California, it recognized that expansion of the park could adversely affect certain workers. Accordingly, the legislation also established the Redwood Employee Protection Program (REPP) which directed the Secretary of Labor to provide adversely affected workers with various forms of monetary and nonmonetary assistance. The law directed that laid off workers would receive benefits they would have received if they had not been laid off and that they be given benefits to assist in retraining and in obtaining employment outside the timber industry and the affected area. REPP was intended to assist only a relatively small group of workers in northern California. However, employees whose layoffs are not related to the 48,000 acre expansion of the park have qualified for benefits because the law presumes that layoffs within a specified period of time are related to park expansion.

The Department of Labor has not restricted the designation of affected employers to organizational units adversely affected by park expansion. An estimated 30 percent or more of the employees who have established program eligibility did so during temporary curtailments in their employment. Despite this increase in the number of eligible employees, some employees directly affected by park expansion have been denied program benefits due to legislative restrictions that prevented their employers from being certified as affected. Complex legislative requirements have caused administrative problems. The generous benefits have reduced the incentive to work and contributed to workers seeking layoffs in preference to staying on the job. Some provisions in the legislation have resulted in inconsistent and different treatment of employees in similar situations. Management deficiencies have hindered employee eligibility determinations and benefit entitlement processes; resulted in errors in benefit entitlements; and delayed employees' receipt of health, welfare, pension coverage, and retraining benefits. Authority and responsibility were not clearly defined for program components among groups involved. Timely guidance has not been provided to the California Employment Development Department which is responsible for the daily administration of the program, nor have that department's procedures and controls been adequately evaluated. Health insurance benefits for most affected employees did not begin until 18 months after the program began and pension coverge has not begun.

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