Budget reduction proposed for Officers' Death Benefits Program
Editor's Note: Shortly after we posted this article from the Associated Press, PoliceOne received word that Chuck Canterbury, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police, "has been in contact with the White House and we have been assured that the Public Safety Death Benefit Program has not been changed and that the full benefit mandated in the Federal Law will be provided to all survivors and approved disability cases." We followed up to get further clarification and spoke with Tim Richardson, Senior Legislative Liaison for the National FOP, who assured us "There’s nothing to be alarmed about — no benefits will be denied." Read the rest of our analysis here.
By Devlin Barrett
WASHINGTON — 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.
The Justice Department insisted no one would lose benefits.
"Any family member who is eligible for benefits under this program will receive them," said Justice Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz.
Budget documents say the reduction is being made because "claims are anticipated to decrease," apparently because the number of officers killed in the line of duty has been decreasing.
The proposal is being made just days before Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to attend ceremonies in Washington honoring slain officers.
"It makes us kind of nervous. While we aren't panicking, it certainly has increased our concern, coming a week before National Police Week," said Suzie Sawyer, executive director of Concerns of Police Survivors, a group taking part in next week's events.
Sawyer said as long as the number of police and safety officers killed doesn't increase too much, the amount of money offered in the budget could be enough. And she noted that in the past, the government has found more money for the program when it needed more, such as following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
The program pays benefits of more than $300,000 to the survivors of a safety officer killed in the line of duty.
There were 133 police officers killed in the line of duty last year, the lowest amount since 1960, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
The group said killings of police officers are up 21 percent so far in 2009, compared to the same period the year before.