The Public Safety Officers Benefits (PSOB) Act, (42 USC 3796, Public Law 94-430) became law on September 29, 1976. The legislation provided for a $50,000 death benefit for fire fighters (paid and volunteer) and law enforcement officers that died in the line-of-duty (emergency or non-emergency) from a traumatic injury.
On December 15, 2003, the Act was amended (Hometown Heroes Act) to cover deaths from heart attack and stroke occurring in the line-of-duty. The Act does not cover deaths resulting from occupational illness or pulmonary disease unless a traumatic injury is a substantial factor to the death.
On August 10, 2006, new regulations for the PSOB were issued that incorporated all prior amendments to the original regulations and added the regulations for the Hometown Heroes Act. The regulations were further changed and issued on December 17, 2008, and incorporated current program practices as well as other modifications including the definition of heart attack, authorized commuting, and training exercise.
On November 11, 1988, the benefit was increased from $50,000 to $100,000 and made retroactive to June 1, 1988. The dependency test for parent(s) was eliminated. Additionally, it provided that on October 1, 1988, and every year thereafter, the benefit would be increased to reflect any increase in the consumer price index.
On October 26, 2001, as part of the Patriot Act of 2001, the benefit was increased to $250,000 and made retroactive to January 1, 2001.
The Act did exclude federal fire fighters; however, on October 12, 1984, the Act was amended to correct this exclusion. Likewise, on October 15, 1986, public sector EMS personnel were also amended into the coverage of the Act.
On June 25, 2002, the Act was amended by the enactment of the Mychal Judge Police and Fire Chaplains Safety Officers Benefit Act, which now allows coverage of fire chaplains under the Act and authorizes all beneficiaries of fallen fire fighters, not just parents, spouses or children to receive the federal compensation. The legislation, named after the FDNY Chaplain Father Judge, was proposed after it was discovered that ten public safety officers who gave their lives on September 11 would not be eligible for death benefits because they did not have any surviving immediate family. The beneficiary hierarchy resulting from this Amendment is as follows:
- If the public safety officer (PSO) is survived by a spouse but no eligible children (as defined above), the spouse will receive 100% of the program benefit.
- If the PSO is survived by a spouse and eligible children, the spouse will receive 50% of the program benefit and the children will receive equal shares of the remaining 50%.
- If the PSO is survived by eligible children but no spouse, the children will receive equal shares of 100% of the program benefit.
- If the PSO is survived by neither a spouse nor eligible children the program benefit shall be paid to “the individual designated by such officer under such officer’s most recently executed life insurance policy, provided that such individual survived such officer.”
- If the PSO is survived by neither a spouse nor eligible children and does not have a life insurance policy, then the benefit will be made payable to the surviving parents in equal shares.
On August 10, 2006, new regulations for administration of all PSOB benefits were issued that incorporated all prior amendments to the original regulations and added the provisions of the Hometown Heroes Act.