Devlin Barrett of the Associated Press reported today (in an article you can read here) that the Obama administration “wants to cut almost in half a benefits program for the families of slain police and safety officers...The president's proposed budget calls for cutting the Public Safety Officers' Death Benefits Program from $110 million to $60 million.”
In order to get clarification, we talked with Tim Richardson, Senior Legislative Liaison for the National Fraternal Order of Police. Richardson has been fielding calls all day about the AP story posted to PoliceOne and other news sites.
Not surprisingly, the AP account is not entirely accurate.
“There’s nothing to be alarmed about — no benefits will be denied,” Richardson assured us. Benefits are set by federal law — the Public Safety Officers' Benefit Act (42 USC 3796), a statute that provides death and disability benefits as well as educational assistance to officers or their families in the event the officer is killed or disabled in the line of duty.
Richardson said as a Federal statute, no budget proposal can affect how (or whether) PSOB benefits are paid. According to the FOP Web site, these benefits are “statutory requirements on the Federal government and each and every approved claim will be paid in full, regardless of how much is budgeted by the Administration or Congress.”
Richardson said he’s spent most of the day trying to clear up a lot of confusion and assure officers and their families that the numbers in the proposed budget constitute nothing more than a forecast.
“It’s like if the local city council set a forecast that it anticipates — based on last year’s numbers — that it expects a certain amount of revenue from parking tickets and traffic violations. Does that make it a mandate or does that set a quota? No, it’s just a way of planning out what they think will happen, based on prior results.”
The number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in 2008 was 133, the lowest number since 1960. The proposed budget reflects the belief among administration budget planners that officer deaths will continue to fall. However, so far in 2009 the number of officers killed in the line of duty is up — not down — with 46 officers killed in the line of duty to date, compared with 39 at this time last year.
Richardson pointed to a statement posted to the FOP Web site from Chuck Canterbury, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police. Canterbury says there that he wants to assure members that the President's budget will not reduce the amount or the number of death or disability benefits paid to officers or their survivor families.
“The President’s budget does reduce the amount allocated to the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit program by $50 million, anticipating fewer line of duty deaths,” Canterbury said. “But this will NOT, repeat NOT, reduce the benefits received by officers or their families in the event they qualify for a disability or death benefit.”
Further, it should be noted that Suzie Sawyer, Executive Director for Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), issued a written statement late this afternoon addressing the matter. Sawyer said that the $60 million budget allocation for PSOB “appears to be a reduction from the $100 million amount that was in the Fiscal Year 2009 budget. After speaking with Laurie Robinson and the Bureau of Justice Assistance at the Department of Justice, we have been assured that this reduction will have no impact on PSOB or the benefit paid to surviving families of fallen public safety officers. The law that provides for PSOB is written in a way that allows Justice to use ‘such sums as may be necessary’ to administer the PSOB program.”
Sawyer noted that after September 11th, DOJ covered the unexpected increase in claims brought on by that tragedy by securing additional funds from the Treasury Department.
“The dollar amount of the reduction for PSOB in the Fiscal Year 2010 budget, therefore, is meaningless to PSOB,” Sawyer concluded.
Canterbury, in his published statement on the FOP Web site said, “It is important to recognize that this is a numbers game — a budgetary device, not an actual reduction that would impact an officer or his surviving family in terms of the benefits to which he or they would be entitled. No matter what the budget or the appropriation is, the Federal government is required by statute to pay all successful claims in full, whether there were twenty or two hundred and twenty. Frankly, I hope the Administration saves even more than $50 million because that means fewer officers will have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.”
The Fraternal Order of Police is the world's largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers, with more than 325,000 members in more than 2,100 lodges. Visit the FOP Web site by clicking here.
C.O.P.S. was organized in 1984 with 110 members. Today C.O.P.S. membership is more than 15,000 families. Members include spouses, children, parents, siblings, significant others, and affected co-workers of officers killed in the line of duty according to Federal government criteria. Visit the C.O.P.S. Web site by clicking here.