Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed the letter from the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. It was signed by National President Ken Thomas.
The Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a bipartisan bill that would entitle disabled law enforcement officers and other federal public safety employees to the same retirement benefits as if they had not been injured.
The bill’s next destination would be President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature to become law.
Congress said it has a national security interest in retaining employees who were wounded while serving as a federal police officer, firefighter, air traffic controller or nuclear materials courier, among others designated as 6c employees.
Federal agencies, including the U.S. Forestry Service and Secret Service, have testified that they’ve struggled to hire and keep their public safety officers. Federal law enforcement bodies often have high turnover, low pay, irregular schedules and higher risk of being hurt or killed in action.
“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,” said Larry Cosme, national president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, in a statement.
Under current law, federal first responders are subject to a mandatory retirement age of 57, earlier than many other civilian employees. To do that, covered public safety employees are required to pay a greater percentage of their salary towards retirement. Additionally, their annuity amount is calculated at a higher rate than other federal employees.
The Fair RETIRE Act allows a federal first responder to remain in the retirement system they’ve been paying into even if they are appointed to a different government job after returning to work. If the employee leaves service before they receive the annuity, they may receive a refund of their contributions.
“Our nation’s federal firefighters, law enforcement officials, Border Patrol officers, and other federal first responders should not have to face additional hardship for sacrifices made for this nation,” said Ken Thomas, national president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, in a letter to Congress in August.
The bill also says agencies should ensure that an individual who was hurt on the job and can no longer carry out the same duties is given a level of pay equivalent to what they had before if they are reappointed in the civil service to a similar job.
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, along with senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), introduced the bill in January, which was joined by a companion bill from Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).
The House approved the bill unanimously in July.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.