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Tester, Collins’ bipartisan bill to support first responders headed to President’s desk

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News from the United States Congress

U.S. SENATE — After an aggressive push from U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), their bipartisan First Responders Fair Return for Employees on Their Initial Retirement Earned (RETIRE) Act passed the Senate and is headed to the President’s desk to be signed into law. The legislation will help federal firefighters, law enforcement officers, Customs and Border Protection officials, and other federal employees with potentially dangerous jobs receive their full retirement benefits if they get hurt while on duty.

“Our first responders are the first on the scene to keep Montana families and communities safe, and we owe them their full retirement benefits if they’re hurt on the job, period,” said Tester. “I introduced this bipartisan legislation to make sure the folks who put themselves in harm’s way are made whole and are able to access the enhanced retirement benefits they’ve earned through years of selfless service.”

“As the title of this bill implies, the Fair RETIRE Act brings fairness to the retirement benefits afforded to the brave men and women in federal law enforcement who are disabled in the line of duty,” Larry Cosme, National President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) said. “We applaud Sen. Jon Tester, Sen. Susan Collins, and Rep. Gerry Connolly who have been our tireless congressional champions on this bill since it was first introduced. They have worked closely with FLEOA to develop and advance this critical legislation each Congress and we are grateful for their efforts and support. We look forward to seeing President Biden sign the bill into law.”

“Correcting this critical flaw in the law was a top priority for NFFE for years,” stated Randy Erwin, National President of the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE).  “Until now, federal first responders who return to work after suffering debilitating job-related injuries could lose their enhanced retirement. When that happens—and it did all too often—the injured first responder would lose thousands of dollars in forfeited retirement contributions and then have to work years more with painful injuries. The First Responder Fair Retire Act stops this financial insult to physical injury, and I thank Senator Tester for his unrelenting leadership over many congresses to get this done. This bill was a bipartisan effort that included Senators Collins, Gillibrand, Risch, King, Daines, and Rosen. On behalf of our nation’s federal first responders, we thank you for your support to protect those injured in the line of duty.”         

The First Responders Fair RETIRE Act is also sponsored by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Angus King (I-Maine), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.). The House of Representatives passed the legislation in July.

Tester first introduced the legislation in 2016 after hearing the story of Missoula smokejumper Bob Beckley and others like him. Beckley parachuted into the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness area to fight a wildfire and broke his back while on the job managing a wildfire emergency. Instead of taking a disability retirement, he chose to return to the federal workforce. However, because he moved to a less hazardous type of position, he lost his enhanced retirement benefits—he lost his ability to retire after 20 years and his enhanced annuity. 

Because of the physically demanding and dangerous nature of federal first responder jobs, Congress created an accelerated retirement system and established a mandatory early retirement age of 57 for certain high-risk jobs. These employees pay a higher percentage of their wages toward their retirement, and are entitled to an annuity after 20 years of service. Currently, if they are injured at work and unable to complete their mandatory years of service, funds that they’ve paid into early retirement are eliminated, even if they return to the federal government in a non-6c position.

The First Responders Fair RETIRE Act will allow federal public safety officers to retain their enhanced 6c retirement status if they chose to return to the federal government in a non-6c position after getting injured in the line of duty. They would still be able to retire after 20 years of federal service and will also be eligible to receive a lump sum payment of the benefits owed from their 6c retirement funds.

The First Responders Fair RETIRE Act is supported by the Fraternal Order of Police, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the National Federation of Federal Employees, the International Association of Fire Fighters, Council of Prison Locals, and the Air Marshal Association.

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