WASHINGTON – Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09), co-chair of the Congressional Law Enforcement Caucus and Congressional Fire Services Caucus, and today celebrated the signing into law of their Protecting America’s First RespondersAct of 2021 (PAFRA) at the White House by President Biden. At the ceremony, the Federal Officers and Employees Protection Act and COPS Counseling Act were also enacted.
This bipartisan legislation was authored and sponsored in the Senate (S. 1511) by Grassley and in the House (H.R. 2936) by Pascrell. 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.
“The daily work of first responders around the country make our communities better and safer. They exemplify the best our nation has to offer, but often face significant risks. Our legislation will curb the bureaucratic hurdles and cut the unacceptable delays that too many families of first responders have faced after a loved one makes the ultimate sacrifice,” Sen Grassley said. “I’d like to thank Congressman Pascrell for his work to make this law a reality.”
“During this devastating pandemic, America’s first responders have stood valiantly on the frontlines. Every single day, our firefighters, police, and EMS have risked their lives and the well-being of their families to keep our communities alive. With President Biden’s signing today, this government has made clear that America’s heroes will now be protected should the worst come to pass,” said Rep. Pascrell. “Going forward, first responders and their families will no longer have to face delays and red tape to receive the benefits they earned. 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. After today, I am hopeful that our first responders and their families will now have more of the peace of mind that they deserve. God bless them.”
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,
·         Wounded Blue.