The Senate last night unanimously passed bipartisan legislation authored by Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) 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 bill is co-led in the Senate by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
“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. I’m grateful that the Senate has taken action to deliver for these first responders. The House should act quickly to get this bill to President Biden’s desk without delay,” Grassley said.
“Our first responders and law enforcement officers risk their health and lives to keep us safe,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The Protecting America’s First Responders Act establishes a clear framework to ensure our nation’s heroes who have died or become permanently disabled in the line of duty are able to have their disability claims processed in a timely manner and ensures that their families remain eligible for the additional benefits they’ve been promised. I am proud to have supported this important bill in the Senate, and I hope that the House acts quickly to pass this important bill and sends to President Biden to sign it into law.”
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.
Along with Grassley and Gillibrand, 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.) Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.). Companion legislation was introduced in the House by Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D, N.J.-09) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R, Penn.-01).
Grassley led the effort to expedite death benefit claims for fallen officers and ensure that officers lost to COVID while serving their communities are eligible for benefits. Both of these efforts have been signed into law.