Bills propose changes to public safety death benefits

Bills propose changes to public safety death benefits

Hearings have been held on bills reshaping the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program, five of which would increase the death benefit from $50,000 to $100,000.

Currently, survivors of firefighters, emergency medical services and rescue personnel, and law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty are entitled to a $50,000 benefit.

But the cost of living has nearly doubled since the program began in 1976. The flurry of bills stemmed from a review of the program, and, said one legislative assistant, strong lobbying by firefighter and police organizations.

New York Democratic Congressman Mario Biaggi’s bill, H.R. 80, was one of about eight discussed during hearings held in October and early this year. It would increase the death benefit to $100,000 using money confiscated from drug traffickers.

Another bill, introduced by Congressman Bob Traxler, a Michigan Democrat, would likewise increase the benefit to $100,000, but would add yearly cost-of-living increases.

There are also bills proposed that would broaden the program’s coverage. For example, the version Michigan Democrat Dale E. Kildee introduced, H.R. 149, would extend benefits to officers who die because of job-related physical stress, such as a heart attack, on a single occasion or during a single event, or because of inhaling or ingesting a toxic substance.

Changes in who qualifies as a beneficiary are also being considered.

From February 1976 to February 1987, $116 million in death benefits have been paid to 2,320 survivors, including those of 601 firefighters, according to the Justice Department.

A second hearing on the bills was scheduled for this month. One possible outcome is that the subcommittee will develop its own, comprehensive bill based on the several that have been introduced.

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