Pascrell, Grassley Introduce Bipartisan Legislation for First Responders
Bicameral bill will improve access and benefits for those injured or killed in the line of duty and their families
Washington, DC, May 3, 2021
Tags: Public Safety
U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09), co-chair of the Congressional Law Enforcement and Congressional Fire Services Caucuses, and U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) have reintroduced their bicameral, bipartisan Protecting America’s First Responders Act of 2021. The Protecting America’s First Responders Act (PAFRA) of 2021 makes significant improvements to the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Public Safety Officer Benefits (PSOB) program, providing first responders who die or are permanently disabled in the line of duty with a federal benefit of $370,000 and education assistance of $1,200 a month to their children or spouse.
Currently, first responders permanently disabled in the line of duty are only eligible for PSOB if they can never again perform any compensated work. This high bar leaves behind far too many public safety officers. PAFRA corrects this by ensuring disabled first responders whose work is for therapeutic purposes, involves simple tasks, or provides special accommodations can still receive PSOB. The bill also provides for retroactive disability benefits to public safety officers who responded to the September 11, 200 terrorist attacks, allowing those first responders who became permanently disabled as a result of their heroic work at Ground Zero to re-apply for disability benefits.
PAFRA also addresses lengthy delays in processing benefit claims, so that impacted officers and families aren't left waiting for their owed relief during the most difficult of times. For cases pending longer than 365 days, PAFRA indexes the award amount to the date of final determination, rather than the date of death or injury, so families aren’t financially penalized for the delay. Additionally, it increases the interim death benefits amount from $3,000 to $6,000 and ties it to the consumer price index so Congress does not have to readjust it again.
Further, PAFRA extends PSOB benefits to certain public safety officers not currently covered, including officers who act outside of their jurisdiction in an emergency situation, trainee officers, and fire-police who handle traffic and crime scene management. Finally, PAFRA closes a loophole in the PSOB program where children born after the death of disability of a public safety officer are not able to receive education benefits. PAFRA mandates that DOJ provide back pay to children who qualify for the educational benefits but failed to receive a payout in time due to the processing delays and allows post-born children to be included in the educational benefits.
The legislation is sponsored in the House by Reps. Pascrell, Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01), Joe Courtney (D-CT-02), John Rutherford (R-FL-04), Markwayne Mullin (R-OK-02), Julia Brownley (D-CA-26), Tom O'Halleran (D-AZ-01), Don Bacon (R-NE-02), and Andrew Garbarino (R-NY-02). Companion legislation in the Senate is sponsored by Sens. Grassley, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Steve Daines (R-MT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
“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.”
“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 passed this language 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,” Sen. Grassley said.
“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,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick.
“The PSOB program is currently burdened with unreasonable definitions of the terms ‘catastrophic injury’ and ‘gainful work’ that prevent officers who are disabled in the line of duty from receiving the benefits to which they are entitled. This legislation addresses this issue by making the PSOB standards more consistent with similar Federal benefit for programs which will improve the ability of our injured and disabled officers to have their claims processed more fairly and more quickly,” said Patrick Yoes, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
“FLEOA fought for years to have the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program created in order to support officers killed or injured in the line of duty. Congress meant for this important program to support officers and their families. Unfortunately far too many officers are unable to qualify for any type of disability benefit due to how the law was written, including heroic 9/11 responders who continue to face lingering health issues metastasizing years later after the attack. FLEOA appreciates the bipartisan and bicameral leadership of Representative Pascrell and Senator Grassley to ensure officers are able to access the PSOB program benefits they are entitled to and have earned, and look forward to working with their offices and other champions in Congress to advance this critical reform,” said Larry Cosme, National President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA).
“The goal of the Protecting America’s First Responders Act is to help protect the ability of survivors, disabled officers and their families to get the death and disability benefits they so rightly deserve. This important legislation will ensure that officers who are disabled in the line of duty are not left behind by the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) Program and that all children of our fallen or disabled heroes are able to benefit from the Public Safety Officers’ Education Assistance Program,” said Bill Johnson, Executive Director of the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO). “NAPO supports the efforts of Representative Pascrell and Senator Grassley to ensure that America’s public safety officers, who put their lives on the line every day in service to our nation, get the benefits promised to them, and we thank him for his leadership on this issue.”
“I would like to thank Representative Pascrell for introducing the Protecting America’s First Responders Act. This legislation would revise the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program to provide necessary assistance to more families of fallen public safety officers during their time of need,” said Fire Chief Ken Stuebing, Acting President and Chairman of the Board of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. “The IAFC looks forward to working with Congress to pass this important legislation.”
“PAFRA makes important improvements to the process by which public safety officers are able to access the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) Disability Program. It also makes necessary changes to how PSOB claims are paid to the survivors of public safety officers who died of occupational illnesses related to work at Ground Zero after 9/11. Finally, I am very pleased that the PAFRA includes language clarifying that members of volunteer fire departments who perform scene security and traffic management duties at emergency scenes are public safety officers,” said Steven W. Hirsch, Chair of the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC).
The Protecting America’s First Responders Act of 2021 has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), Sergeants Benevolent Association of the NYPD (SBA), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), the National Association of School Resource Officers, How2LoveOurCops, and Wounded Blue.
Rep. Pascrell has worked tirelessly to provide support for public safety officers under the PSOB program. On April 10, 2020, he led a letter of 159 Members which urged that public safety officers who contract COVID-19 be presumed eligible for PSOB death or disability benefits.
On April 14, 2020, Pascrell joined House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10) and Rep. Max Rose (D-NY-11) in introducing the Public Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act (H.R. 6509), legislation to ensure public safety officers who contract COVID-19 in the line of duty are eligible for PSOB benefits should they become disabled or die from the virus. H.R. 6509 was included in the HEROES Act, which passed the House of Representatives on May 15, 2020. On August 14, 2020, Rep. Pascrell praised the signing into law of the Safeguarding America's First Responders Act (S. 3607), companion legislation led by Senator Grassley and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) to provide such a presumptive PSOB benefit for public safety officers who die or become disabled from COVID-19.