U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers detain a man during an operation in Escondido, California, in July 2019.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers detain a man during an operation in Escondido, California, in July 2019. AP file photo

New Bill Would Protect Early Retirement Benefits for Injured Federal First Responders

Currently, federal first responders who transfer to another job at a federal agency due to an injury may no longer retire at 57, despite paying more into the retirement system.

A bipartisan and bicameral group of lawmakers on Thursday introduced legislation they say will ensure that federal first responders do not lose full access to their retirement benefits if they are injured on the job.

Currently, federal first responders contribute to their government retirement programs at an accelerated rate, due to their earlier mandatory retirement age of 57, and may receive their defined benefit annuity once they have served 20 years and reach age 50. But when a federal firefighter, Border Patrol officer, or other federal law enforcement official is injured while on duty and forced to transfer to another job within the federal government, they lose access to that program.

The First Responder Fair RETIRE Act, introduced by Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., in the House and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., in the Senate, would allow those federal workers to remain in their original retirement program if they are transferred to another position due to an on-the-job injury. The bill also entitles those employees to a refund on their accelerated retirement contributions if they leave federal service before they are eligible for an annuity.

“Our federal firefighters, Capitol Police officers, Secret Service agents, Customs and Border Protection officers, and other federal law enforcement officials put their lives on the line every day for our fellow Americans,” Connolly said. “We have a responsibility to uphold our promise to those that are injured on the job and ensure their first responders’ benefits are fully protected. They shouldn’t be penalized, especially when they are still committed to public service.”

“Our federal firefighters and federal law enforcement officers, especially those injured on the job, should not be penalized and deprived of the retirement security they have earned,” Fitzpatrick said. “Our federal first responders deserve our full support for their public service, and I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation . . . to make sure that we have the backs of these everyday heroes.”

The bill already has the support of federal employee unions and law enforcement groups.

“For federal firefighters and law enforcement officers, there is a very real potential for incurring debilitating injury every day of their working lives,” said Randy Erwin, national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees. “Year after year, they risk their health and in return, they are promised an enhanced ‘6c’ retirement program paid into at a higher employee contribution rate than other employees. Tragically, after sustaining a debilitating injury, many lose their enhanced retirement. They are forced to work years longer while injured, plus they lose the money they paid into the retirement plan. It’s a travesty in every sense.”