May 17, 2019

Gillibrand, Grassley Bill To Help First Responders And Their Families Access Benefits They Earned Unanimously Passes Senate

The Bipartisan Protecting America’s First Responders Act Would Allow First Responders and Their Families To Receive the Benefits They Deserve

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced that their bipartisan legislation that would help first responders who are disabled or killed in the line of duty and their families receive compensation unanimously passed the Senate yesterday. The Protecting America’s First Responders Act would improve the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program, which provides disability benefits to officers who are permanently injured in the line of duty and to the survivors of officers who die in the line of duty, by allowing the benefit amount to be calculated based on the date of the award. Currently, the amount is calculated based on date of injury and does not account for cost of living increases. This legislation would help ensure that 9/11 first responders and their families, who are currently considered “injured” on September 11, 2001, can receive the current allocated amount of funding.

“Our first responders have a dangerous job and they take extraordinary risks to keep the rest of us safe. This bill would make sure that public safety officers who are injured or killed in the line of duty – including our sick 9/11 first responders – and the families of our fallen heroes are receiving the correct amount compensation from the PSOB program. I was proud to fight with Senator Grassley to pass this bill in the Senate, and I will continue to work to ensure that it can get signed into law,” said Senator Gillibrand.

“This week is National Police Week, a time to honor America’s law enforcement officers for their sacrifices serving our communities. So it’s only fitting that the Senate unanimously passed our bipartisan bill to help those who have given so much to help us. This bill helps ensure public safety officers whose lives have been permanently altered by a catastrophic injury in the line of duty get the support they deserve. The House of Representatives should swiftly pass this bill and send it to President Trump,” said Senator Grassley.

The Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program was established by Congress in 1976 to provide death benefits to the survivors of officers who die in the line of duty. The law has expanded to provide disability and education benefits, as well as to expand the pool of officers who are eligible for these benefits. The program provides disability or death benefits in a one-time lump sum payment, which is adjusted yearly based on the consumer price index. The program has also been marked by delayed adjudication of death and disability claims. In some cases, claims have taken years to process. A lack of DOJ guidelines for adjudicating disability claims has also resulted in PSOB benefits being denied to officers whose work-related injuries would result in a disability determination under the Social Security Administration’s guidelines.

The Protecting America’s First Responders Act would improve the PSOB program by doing the following:

  • Requiring that the disability or death benefit award amount is based on the date of the adjudication rather than the date of the injury. This would account for increases in the cost of living that may occur during lengthy adjudication periods;
  • Updating the PSOB program’s definition of “disability” to ensure that officers who are permanently unable to find gainful employment following a catastrophic injury in the line of duty can remain eligible for benefits;
  • Ensuring that applicants who have been denied benefits in the past three years as a result of the current standards could be able to re-apply using the updated definition; and
  • Guaranteeing retroactive education assistance for eligible survivors who pay out-of-pocket education expenses while awaiting the adjudication of a claim.

The Protecting America’s First Responders Act is supported by the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Association of Police Organizations, National Volunteer Fire Council, National Association of School Resource Officers, Wounded Blue, Violently Injured Police Officers Organization, the Sergeants Benevolent Association of NYPD, the Peace Officers Research Association of California, How2LoveOurCops, and the California Coalition of Law Enforcement Associations.  

In 2017, Gillibrand and Grassley successfully passed legislation, the Public Safety Officers Improvement Act, to reduce the delays families of fallen first responders have to wait to receive the survivor benefits they received.