Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Senate passed the Mychal Judge Police and Fire Chaplains Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Act on May 6. The legislation, named after Fire Department of New York (FDNY) fire chaplain Mychal Judge, will extend survivors’ benefits to those firefighters and police officers who died without parents, spouses or children.
The bill expands the list of eligible to include those whose relations may not qualify under the current guidelines for federal death benefits. It was sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), and Joseph Biden (D-Del.). The House version of the bill, sponsored by Reps. Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y), was approved by the House Judiciary Committee in April 2002 and is awaiting House floor action. The Mychal Judge bill will retroactively go into effect on September 11, 2001.
Judge, who perished in the World Trade Center on September 11 while working with the FDNY, left behind two sisters who are presently not entitled to collect survivors’ benefits. There are survivors of nine other officers who died in the September 11 attacks known to be in similar circumstances.
The bill also adds chaplains who were killed in the line of duty to the list of eligible public safety officers. While they may be deemed eligible now, chaplains are not specifically designated in existing law.
The Public Safety Officers’ Benefit program provides $250,000 for families of fire fighters, emergency response workers and law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. The program has been criticized in the past for the lengthy and difficult application process. In response, Congress passed a bill that amends the law and speeds relief to the families of officers who died on September 11.