Coalition, Special Needs Groups Hash Out Amendments to Work Ability Reform ({{commentsTotal}})

On Monday, a package of amendments to the worker ability reform bill was handed over by a group of coalition MPs to the Social Affairs Committee.

The amendments are based on input from a number of interest groups and feedback from the Social Democrats, ETV reported.

Chairman of the Social Affairs Committee Heljo Pikhof (Social Democrats) praised the changes, telling ETV: "When the first draft law in the big disability reform reached Parliament, there was very much criticism. It was all very to the point. We have had eight committee meetings over the summer to hear the concerns of people with special needs."

One proposal suggested by the disabled people's lobby and included in the amendments was that cuts in disability allowance above a certain income level could start to kick in at a higher level than in the original draft. Originally, only people who made 641 euros a month before taxes would not full benefits. Now the benefits would be untouched up to an income level of 960 euros, the national average wage.

For the opposition, the deputy chairman of the Social Affairs Committee, Margus Tsahkna (IRL), who has been one of the major detractors of both the original draft law and Monday's amendments, admitted that it was a positive change. But he said other changes were more for show.

"All organizations for people with special needs have been stressing that they currently have a lack of real services, that would help them go to work, to participate in society. The part of reform concerning local government services, disability aids and rehabilitation is still yet to be done and more red tape and burden continues to be created for people with special needs," Tsahkna said.

Pikhof has responded, saying IRL has been nonconstructive and that, unlike the other opposition party, Center, did not put in a single amendment.

Several other new amendments also are significant, such as the separate subsidy for transport to work that would cover costs if the person's needs were not met by public transport, said Minister of Social Affairs Urmas Kruuse.

Another amendment clarifies the process of evaluating a person's capacity for work. In this case, though, Tsahkna said, it gives the disabled a runaround between different systems - not just evaluation of the disability itself but also a person's capacity for work.

"If such a major reform is mounted, it should all be in one place and at one level," Tsahkna said.

Finally, an important change is the fact that the entire reform has been put off by one year, from January 2015 to January 2016.

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