Congressman Pascrell’s first responder benefits bill clears Senate, heads to President Biden’s desk

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U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell’s (D-9) first responder benefits bill, which provides a $370,000 federal benefit to the families of those badly injured or killed in the lined of duty, cleared the U.S. Senate and is now heading to President Joe Biden’s (D) desk.

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9) with President Joe Biden (D). Photo via hpae.org.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“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,” Pascrell said in a statement.

“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.

In addition to the six-figure federal benefit, a monthly $1,200 education assistance would also be offered for the children of a fallen first responder.

The 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 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.