Pascrell-authored legislation will improve benefits for those harmed in the line of duty and their families
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09), co-chair of the Congressional Law Enforcement Caucus and Congressional Fire Services Caucus, today celebrated the Senate’s passage of his Protecting America’s First Responders Act of 2021 (PAFRA).
This bipartisan legislation is sponsored in the House (H.R. 2936) by Rep. Pascrell and in the Senate (S. 1511) 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, which provides 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.
PAFRA first passed the Senate on June 10 and subsequently passed the House on October 27 with an amendment to extend the statutory presumption guaranteeing public safety officers who contract COVID-19 are eligible for benefits should they become disabled or die from the virus. Rep. Pascrell championed legislation to enact this important presumption last Congress. Today’s passage in the Senate will send the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk.
“During this devastating pandemic, America’s first responders have stood valiantly on the frontlines keeping our communities safe. Every single day, our firefighters, police, and EMS have risked their lives and the well-being of their families. With final passage of our bill today, Congress has made clear that America’s heroes have our fullest support and that their families will be protected should the worst come to pass,” said Rep. Pascrell. “I fought like hell to pass this bill in the House and I want to thank Senator Grassley for all of his work to get this bill across the finish line in the upper chamber. I now look forward to President Biden signing this bill into law so that our first responders and their families may have the peace of mind they deserve.”
Currently, first responders permanently disabled in the line of duty are only eligible for Public Safety Officer Benefits (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 benefits. The bill also provides for retroactive disability benefits to public safety officers who responded to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, allowing those first responders who became permanently disabled from their heroic work at Ground Zero to re-apply for disability benefits.
The Protecting America’s First Responders Act 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 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 or disability of a public safety officer are not able to receive education benefits. PAFRA mandates that the U.S. Department of Justice 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 Protecting America’s First Responders Act of 2021 has been endorsed by the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), Sergeants Benevolent Association of the NYPD (SBA), 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) 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.