**WATCH Senator Gillibrand’s Speech on the Senate Floor HERE**
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today introduced the bipartisan Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Improvement Act, legislation that would ensure families of fallen officers receive benefits in a timely and transparent manner, and called for its swift passage in a speech on the Senate floor.
Below are Senator Gillibrand’s remarks as prepared for delivery, and video is available here:
“Mr. President, I rise to speak about a bill I’m introducing with Senator Grassley, called the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Improvement Act.
“When our first responders make the decision to join a police department, or a fire department, or an EMT squad, they do so knowing that they might encounter hazards on the job that threaten their life – or even end their life.
“These men and women work in some of the highest-pressure and most dangerous environments: Shootouts. Fires. Natural disasters. Terror attacks.
“Think about your own community back home.
“When disaster strikes, when there’s an emergency, who shows up first, speeding to the scene and ready to help?
“It’s our police officers. Our fire fighters. Our EMT workers.
“Our public safety officers know that death or serious injury is a real risk in these jobs.
“But they show up to work anyway, ready to help, and willing to sacrifice, if that’s what it takes to make their communities safe.
“Mr. President, when a first responder dies as a result of their work, we all have a responsibility to help take care of their surviving family members.
“In 1984, more than three decades ago, Congress did the right thing and created a program, called the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Program, to help these families.
“Whenever tragedy struck, and a first responder was killed on the job, or passed away because of their job, these grieving families could take a little bit of comfort in knowing that they would have financial support from this program.
“They knew they would have help from this program, transitioning to life without their loved one.
“But in recent years, the families applying to the program have faced confusing and inconsistent requirements.
“They’ve faced long delays in receiving their compensation.
“Before, when a loved one died on the job, the family would get compensation from this program, without a serious delay.
“But now, the burden to claim these funds, and then retrieve them, has been placed on the families – the same families that this program is supposed to help.
“As a result, hundreds of families, who are already grieving, now have to dig through public records themselves;
“They have to endure an exhausting paper-chase with no guidance;
“And they have to go far beyond a reasonable doubt to prove to the Justice Department that their loved one did in fact serve as a first responder – and sacrificed their life on the job.
“Last fall, USA Today reported that of the more than 900 cases they reviewed, the average wait for a decision by the program about compensation is more than a year.
“For some families, the wait is two years. And for some, the wait is more than three years.
“This even includes our first responders who worked at Ground Zero after 9-11.
“Think about the unnecessary stress these delays place on our families who have lost loved ones.
“Mr. President, we need to fix this program.
“The families of our fallen public safety officers are not getting the compensation they deserve and need in a timely manner.
“Our bipartisan bill would fix this.
“The Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Improvement Act would make this compensation program more transparent and more efficient.
“It would require the program to report – publicly – the status of every claim, so that families can know if and why their compensation is being delayed.
“The bill would give weight to the findings and records of federal agencies, state agencies, and local agencies about the cause of the public safety officer’s death, so that families don’t have to reproduce records that already exist.
“And this bill would reduce the wait for our families to receive the compensation they deserve and need.
“Mr. President, I urge all of my colleagues here to support this bill.
“Let’s fix the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Program. Let’s take care of the families of our public safety officers. Let’s do the right thing.
“I yield the floor.”