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TUESDAY, JANUARY 11, 2000202/307-0703

Surviving Families of Worcester Firefighters Submit Claims for Benefits

WASHINGTON, DC - The Justice Department has announced that more than 200 families of public safety officers have received a one-time financial award provided by the Justice Department's Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) program in fiscal year (FY)1999. More than 4,500 families have received awards since the program began in 1977. The PSOB program, administered by the Office of Justice Programs' (OJP) Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), provides a financial award to the families of public safety officers whose death or permanent and total disability occurred in the line-of-duty.

"Public safety officers face innumerable risks on a daily basis to ensure the safety of our communities," said Nancy Gist, Director of the BJA. "As in the Worcester tragedy, when an officer or firefighter loses his or her life or is permanently or totally disabled, the family should not have its grief intensified with fears regarding how the family will make ends meet. The Justice Department is proud that the PSOB program has reached these families and can furnish a small measure of comfort."

The PSOB program provides benefits to individuals serving a public safety agency in an official capacity, on a paid or volunteer basis. This includes, but is not limited to, law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, ambulance crew members, and corrections officers. With the assistance of Justice Department representatives, surviving family members of the Worcester, Massachusetts firefighters, who died last month, have filed claims for these benefits. Under the program, each family could receive a lump sum payment benefit of $146,000. This is a 3.4 percent increase from the FY 99 award amount of $143, 000.

During FY 99, the PSOB program awarded more than $29 million in death benefits to the surviving families of public safety officers. More than $800,000 in disability benefits were paid to six disabled public safety officers in FY 99; in FY 98, $600,000 was paid to five disabled public safety officers. Disability benefits are paid to a public safety officer who is unable to work due to catastrophic personal injuries suffered in the line of duty. All benefits paid are tax exempt, and not subject to attachment by creditors. Since 1977, on average the program has received 275 death benefit claims each year for line of duty deaths.

In September 1999, the Justice Department extended further support to the families of public safety officers by amending the regulations governing the Federal Law Enforcement Dependents' Assistance (FLEDA) program. The program, also administered by BJA, provides higher education financial assistance to eligible survivors of those whose death or permanent disability resulted while in the line of duty. The changes extended the program's benefits to include the families of state and local public safety officers, as well as federal public safety officers. With the inclusion of state and local officers, BJA changed the name to the "Public Safety Officers' Educational Assistance (PSOEA) program.

In FY 99, the PSOEA program provided educational assistance awards to eight families, which totaled more than $44,000 in financial assistance; last year's total of $35,000 was paid to six families. Full-time students are eligible to receive $404 per month, three-quarter-time students are eligible to receive $304, and part-time students are eligible to receive $202. PSOEA benefits can be used for educational expenses that include tuition, room and board, books, supplies, and fees consistent with educational, professional, and vocational objectives.

Recognizing that the one-time financial benefit of the Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) program is often consumed by basic needs in the aftermath of tragedy, PSOEA's sole purpose is intended to defer educational expenses through an established monthly allowance.

For more information regarding benefits provided by the PSOB program or the PSOEA program contact the Bureau of Justice Assistance at 888/744-6513. Additional information about BJA or its programs is available at:

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For additional information, contact Sheila Jerusalem at 202/616-3227.