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Pascrell Heralds Senate Passage of Vital First Responders Bill

Bicameral bill will improve access and benefits for those injured or killed in the line of duty and their families

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09), the co-chair of the Congressional Law Enforcement and Congressional Fire Services Caucuses, today praised the Senate’s passage of Pascrell’s bipartisan Protecting America’s First Responders Act (PAFRA). Sponsored in the upper chamber by U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), PAFRA 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.

“Throughout the pandemic, our first responders have been heroes saving our communities. For their sacrifices, our men and women on the frontlines need to know the government has their back,” said Rep. Pascrell, Co-Chair of the Congressional Law Enforcement Caucus and Congressional Fire Services Caucus. “When a first responder becomes injured on the job or tragically dies, their family must have peace of mind. This bicameral legislation will give first responders and their loved ones that safety net. I thank Senator Grassley for his hard efforts to winning passage today. We are working each day to pass PAFRA in the House and get it to President Biden’s desk with haste.”

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.

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).

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