A bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers this week introduced legislation to better ensure that law enforcement and first responders who are disabled in the line of duty have prompt access to the benefits they’ve been promised. The Protecting America’s First Responders Act was authored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). Identical legislation in the House of Representatives is led by Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D, N.J.-09) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R, Penn.-01).
“Our nation has long promised to support those who’ve sacrificed so much to keep our communities safe. But time and again, families seeking federal death or disability benefits face lengthy delays to hear back on their claims, only to face inconsistent and absurd results. This bill ensures that disability claims are adjudicated consistent with Congress’ original intent so that officers and their families can receive the support they’ve been promised. The Senate unanimously passed an earlier version of this bill last Congress and I have worked with my House counterparts to allow for quick passage in the House. Our first responders can’t afford to wait any longer,” Grassley said.
“During this devastating pandemic, our nation’s first responders have stood heroically on the frontlines keeping communities across America safe. These brave men and women who put their lives on the line every day must have the utmost support from the federal government, especially those who have made drastic sacrifices in the line of duty,” said Rep. Pascrell, Co-Chair of the Congressional Law Enforcement Caucus and Congressional Fire Services Caucus. “First responders constitute both our first and last lines of defense. This much we know. What many don’t know, however, are the struggles many first responders and their families deal with after sustaining serious injuries or loss of life on the job. Our legislation will directly assist those brave individuals struggling with lasting impacts of service. I am committed to seeing it fully passed into law.”
“Every community across our nation relies on the brave actions of the incredible women and men who serve as police officers, firefighters, or EMS personnel. Each day, they put their lives on the line to protect our community, and when we need help, they answer our call. It is our duty to ensure those injured while protecting our community have the financial support they need for themselves and their family,” Fitzpatrick said.
Congress established the Public Safety Officers Benefits Program (PSOB) program in 1976 to provide death benefits to survivors of officers who die in the line of duty. Over the years, the law has been amended to provide disability and education benefits, and to expand the pool of officers who are eligible for these benefits. However, the program has been marked by delayed adjudication of death and disability claims. In some cases, claims have taken years to process. A lack of Justice Dept. guidelines for adjudicating disability claims has also resulted inconsistent results.
The Protecting America’s First Responders Act of 2021 (S. 1511) updates the PSOB program’s definition of disability to ensure that officers who are permanently unable to secure meaningful gainful employment following a catastrophic injury in the line of duty remain eligible for benefits.
To address delays in processing claims, the bill expands DOJ’s subpoena authority to more efficiently secure records needed to evaluate claims.
Under the current program, disability or death benefits are provided in the form of a one-time lump sum payment, which is adjusted yearly based on the consumer price index. Benefits may also be issued to a surviving spouse or children in the form of monthly education assistance. The Protecting America’s First Responders Act requires the benefit award amount to be based on the date of the adjudication rather than the date of the injury to account for increases in the cost of living that may occur during lengthy adjudication periods.
The bill is cosponsored in the Senate by Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
The House bill is cosponsored by Reps. Joe Courtney (D, Conn.-02), John Rutherford (R, Fla.-04), Julia Brownley (D, Calif-26), Markwayne Mullin (R, Okla.-02), Tom O’Halleran (D, Ariz.-01), Andrew Garbarino (R, N.Y.-02) and Don Bacon (R, Neb.-02).
The Protecting America’s First Responders Act is endorsed by:
- Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association
- Fraternal Order of Police
- International Association of Fire Chiefs
- National Association of Police Organizations
- National Association of School Resource Officers
- National Volunteer Fire Council
- Wounded Blue