President Biden signed at the White House on Thursday the Protecting America’s First Responders Act of 2021 (PAFRA) into law, which unanimously passed the Senate in November. This law will ensure first responders and law enforcement disabled in the line of duty will be guaranteed prompt access to benefits.
“Today is a monumental day for our first responders and law enforcement officers who risk their health and lives to keep us safe,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). “The Protecting America’s First Responders Act will establish a clear framework to ensure our nation’s heroes who have died or become permanently disabled in the line of duty are able to have their disability claims processed in a timely manner, and ensures that their families remain eligible for the additional benefits they’ve been promised. We owe a great deal to our veterans and we applaud President Biden for upholding this promise and signing this bill into law.”
“The daily work of first responders around the country makes 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,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Congress first established the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program in 1976 to provide death benefits to survivors of officers who die in the line of duty. Over the years, the law has been amended to provide disability and education benefits, and to expand the pool of officers who are eligible for these benefits. However, the program has been marked by delayed adjudication of death and disability claims. In some cases, claims have taken years to process, and a lack of Justice Department guidelines for adjudicating disability claims has led to inconsistent results.
To address delays in processing claims, the Protecting America’s First Responders Act of 2021 (S. 1511) updates the PSOB program’s disability definition to ensure that officers who are permanently unable to secure employment following a catastrophic injury in the line of duty remain eligible for benefits. Before today’s signing, disability or death benefits were provided in the form of a one-time lump sum payment, adjusted yearly based on the consumer price index. This new law will now require the benefit award amount to be based on the date of the adjudication rather than the date of the injury to account for increases in the cost of living that may occur during lengthy adjudication periods. The bill also expands DOJ’s subpoena authority to more efficiently secure records needed to evaluate claims.