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Gillibrand, King, want feds to help first responder families

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks as Rep. Peter King

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks as Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 15, 2011. Credit: Getty Images

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) called on Congress Sunday to pass legislation aimed at reducing the time families of fallen first responders must wait for federal compensation.

At a news conference held in front of a firehouse in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, both lawmakers said the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act would help cut “bureaucratic red tape” to ensure families receive the compensation they are entitled to under a federal program for police officers, firefighters and medics killed in the line of duty.

“Our public safety officers know that death or serious injury is a real risk in their jobs, but they show up to work anyway, ready to help, and willing to sacrifice,” said Gillibrand, who sponsored the measure along with five other senators. “When tragedy does strike, we should make it as easy as possible for their families to get the compensation they deserve and need.”

King said he planned on filing a companion version in the House in the coming days, saying it was “unconscionable” that the benefits program “is too often mired in bureaucratic red tape.”

Currently, families of public safety officers who died in the line of duty, including those who worked at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks, are eligible for financial compensation under the federal government’s Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Program, but the process to receive the compensation is often plagued by delays, Gillibrand said.

Gillibrand cited a September 2015 USA Today investigation that found the average wait time for families to hear a decision on their application was more than a year, with some families waiting two or more years.

The proposed measure would require the federal program to report the status of every application online, so that families can track their case and know why their compensation is being delayed, Gillibrand said.

The measure would also allow the program to use federal, state, and local records about the officer’s cause of death to avoid having families produce and submit records that already exist.

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