Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, offered an amendment to ensure that all public safety officers -- including those who work for the government and for nonprofit organizations -- have equal access to their benefit programs. His amendment to H.R. 4018, the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Improvement Act of 2012, and the bill itself were approved at today's Judiciary markup. H.R. 4018 updates the Public Safety Officers' Benefit program, clarifies language in the underlying law, and makes changes to improve its administration and expedite the processing of claims, enabling the program to use its limited resources for benefits instead of bureaucracy.
"The Public Safety Officer Benefit provides meaningful recognition and critical support to public safety officers and their families around the country," said Nadler. "Treating all of these public safety officers the same is critically important for my district, which covers parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and New York City more generally. That is because almost 40% of emergency response services are handled in the City by private, non-profit hospitals under a contract with the FDNY."
The following is the text of Nadler's statement on the amendment, as prepared:
"Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the majority and minority, and their staffs, for working with me and my staff to develop consensus on an amendment to make improvements to the bill. My amendment does that, making a number of small but important changes. I expect the amendment to be accepted and, assuming it is, I would strongly support passage of H.R. 4018 today.
"The Public Safety Officer Benefit -- or PSOB -- provides meaningful recognition and critical support to public safety officers and their families around the country. As we have discussed, those who work in public safety, such as police officers, firefighters, and ambulance crews -- or their survivors -- can be awarded federal death, disability, and educational benefits if such public safety personnel die in the line of duty. H.R. 4018 makes changes to improve the program's administration, thereby speeding up the payment of claims and enabling us to use our limited resources for benefits instead of bureaucratic processing.
"I also want to mention another important aspect of this bill. There remains some uncertainty or confusion about which public safety officers are eligible for the PSOB program. Section 2 clarifies that members of rescue squads and ambulance crews who work for non-profit entities are in fact eligible public safety officers under the PSOB program. This will ensure that similarly situated individuals, be they public safety officers working directly for the government or performing the same function as employees of a non-profit, are treated the same.
"Treating all of these public safety officers the same is critically important for my district, which covers parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and New York City more generally. That is because almost 40 percent of emergency response services are handled in the City by private, non-profit hospitals under a contract with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). These non-profit hospital employees have the same responsibilities as FDNY employees, operate under the same rules, and face the same risks. They should have access to the same benefits.
"Seemingly recognizing ambiguity or at least flexibility in the PSOB statute, in October 2001 the Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed to provide money under the PSOB program to the families of non-governmental EMS workers operating under the supervision of the FDNY or other local government agencies who were killed on 9/11. Some additional employees of private non-profit hospitals who were injured on 9/11 and then applied in the mid-part of the last decade still have applications pending with the Department of Justice for PSOB benefits.
"Our actions today should not be seen as negatively affecting these pending applications. Again, all we are doing today is clarifying that similarly situated rescue personnel who are part of an official public emergency response system -- those who work for the government and those who work for non-profits -- should be equally eligible for benefits under the PSOB program.
"As I mentioned, my amendment would make some important changes to the bill, and I would like to explain those now. First, as we have discussed, the intent of the bill is to make sure rescue squad and ambulance crews who work for non-profit organizations serving the government in emergency response and rescue are eligible for the PSOB program. My amendment replaces language in the bill describing these organizations in order to make this intent clear and unambiguous.
"Second, my amendment makes a conforming change to the "fast track' provisions of law for first responder victims of terrorism, found at 42 U.SC. 3796c-1. This fast track process is based on legislation that I sponsored and which was enacted in the week after September 11, requiring payment of benefits under the PSOB program within 30 days to a qualified applicant injured or killed as a result of 9/11 after his or her employer certified eligibility. One month later, as part of the USA PATRIOT Act, the mandate for payment was expanded to cover first responders killed while responding to any terrorist event.
"Again, one of the purposes of this bill is to make clear that the PSOB program includes employees of certain non-profits and is not limited to employees of "public agencies' in the strict sense of that term. My amendment conforms the fast track provision to this change, making clear that employees of non-profits are also eligible for it.
"Third, the underlying bill contains language which says the Justice Department only should pay claims under the PSOB program once it determines that the facts legally warrant payment and that the Department is allowed, but not required, to accept certifications made under the program. This would run counter to the fast track provision, under which DOJ is supposed to accept certifications at face value and not do any independent review. It is my understanding that, because of the way it is written, this language in H.R. 4018 likely does not affect the fast track provision in this way. However, because it is unclear, we have excluded fact track from the relevant language in H.R. 4018.
"Lastly, page 14 of the bill gives the Department of Justice the power to promulgate regulations for the PSOB program and then apply those rules to PSOB matters occurring on or after the effective date of the rules, except as the Department "may indicate otherwise.' There was a concern this last phrase, granting the Department flexibility in terms of deciding which cases would be impacted by certain regulations going forward, could be used to disadvantage certain claimants. My amendment limits their flexibility to acting only "in the interests of justice' -- my intent is for the Department to only modify which cases would be affected by a regulation in order to benefit a claimant, not to disadvantage a claimant.
"My amendment makes this bill stronger, and I encourage all Members to vote for it. And, I again strongly endorse passage of the underlying bill, assuming my amendment is included. I yield back the balance of my time."