■ Chronicle News Service
On Feb. 23, Rep. Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-36), local public safety leaders, and families of fallen law enforcement officers and firefighters came together to announce the introduction of the Heroes Lesley Zerebny and Gilbert Vega First Responders Survivors Support Act. This bipartisan bill would update the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) Program so that grieving families of fallen heroes will have the support they need to pay off their debt, pursue an education, and get back on their feet.
“Every day our officers and firefighters risk their lives to protect our community and the least we can do is ensure their families have the support and resources they need in the event of a tragedy,” said Ruiz. “The current benefits system is outdated and families and survivors are being shortchanged due to bureaucracy. They deserve better. Today, we announce, as a community, the Heroes Lesley Zerebny and Gilbert Vega First Responder Survivor Support Act. This bipartisan bill is the product of incredible teamwork and grassroots problem-solving to improve the current system and honor the lives of our fallen heroes.”
“I wanted to make sure for the officers, that they knew if, God forbid, something happens to them, their family has resources to be able to pay off their house, pay off their cars, pay off their credit cards, pay off the student loans, cars, and have at least enough money to be able to raise a child to 18.,” said Dr. Matt Zerebny, father-in-law of fallen Officer Lesley Zerebny. “We owe it to these families, they sacrifice everything.”
Ruiz’s legislation would increase the PSOB death and disability benefit to half a million, fix bureaucratic problems with the system that rob families of the full benefit, increase the education benefit to $2,000 per month, and identify ways to strengthen, streamline, and increase access to the PSOB education benefit.
“Today’s announcement of this very important bill will be known as a day in history in which a bipartisan effort started to address the long overdue improvement to the benefits that should be rightfully afforded to the families and children left behind because of the tragic line of duty death that has occurred to their families,” said Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes. “Our law enforcement and fire personnel go out every day not knowing if they will come home to their family. They do this with the support of their family at home. This bill will see to it that the families that support these public servants are taken care of should they have to experience the tragic line of duty death of their loved one. I, along with my fellow brothers and sisters in the law enforcement and fire profession, are extremely grateful for Congressman Raul Ruiz and Congressman Paul Cook for leading from the front in this effort to address this very important bill.”
“On behalf of California firefighters, who courageously risk their lives to save resident’s lives and property, I support Congressman Raul Ruiz’s sponsorship of The Heroes Lesley Zerebny and Gilbert Vega First Responders Survivors Support Act,” said Fire Chief Paul S. Wilson of Cathedral City Fire Department. “The devastating wildfires, floods and shootings in the state severely impact first responders surviving families, when first responders lose their lives. As a nation, we should honor the first responders by providing their families with adequate benefits.”
The PSOB was established in 1976 to encourage more people to enter the public safety officer workforce by providing them with assurances that their families would receive a robust death benefit if they are killed in the line of duty.
Ruiz’s legislation would:
• Increase the PSOB death and disability benefit from $350,000 to $500,000. This allows the average family to fully pay off the most common outstanding debt (mortgage, credit card, auto loans, and private student loans), and the average costs to raise a child from birth to 18 years of age.
• Fix the benefit determination date to ensure families get the full benefit they are due. This would make the PSOB benefit amount set on the date of disbursement, rather than the date of death.
• Increase the education benefit from $1,041 to $2,000 per month and fix the inflationary index. The bill increases the education benefit from $1,041 to $2,000 per month to “catch-up” with years of inadequate inflationary increases. It also changes the inflation rate from CPI-U to the CPI for college tuition and fees.
• Study and identify ways to improve access and utilization of the PSOB education benefit. The bill requires the Government Accountability Office to determine PSOB and Public Safety Officers’ Educational Assistance (PSOEA) utilization rates, identify barriers to accessing and using the education benefit, and report back to Congress on further improvements that can be made to better serve our officers and their families.
To see the full language of the bill, go to: