Survivors of public safety workers who die in line of duty get $333,604.68 from feds, $25,000 from state

Originally posted November 6, 2014; updated September 3, 2015




Survivors of public safety officers (police and firefighters) who die in line of duty get $333,604.68 from the federal government and $25,000 from the State of Michigan. Survivors of law enforcement officers (police) who die in the line of duty and who were National Rifle Association (NRA) members get another $25,000 from the NRA.


The purpose of the federal program, according to this fact sheet, is to

  • assist in the recruitment and retention of qualified public safety officers

  • establish the value communities place on contributions from those who are willing to serve their communities in dangerous circumstances

  • offer peace of mind to men and women who are seeking careers in public safety

Is there really a problem with the recruitment and retention of "qualified public safety officers?" Is there a shortage? I don't think so. There is a lot of romance associated with these jobs. Young people see them as a way to serve the public and have fun and excitement besides. They get to wear uniforms. Police get to carry guns! People volunteer to fight fires. So many people wanted to play cop in the little town of Delton, MI, pop. 800, that it had 34 reserve officers.


Fortunately, few public safety workers die in the line of duty, so the program doesn't cost much. The following information was emailed to me by the by the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program, which is in the U.S. Department of Justice:



Public Safety Officer's Benefits (PSOB) Summary Annual Obligations FY 2010 - FY 2014

(Dollars in Millions)  


All PSOB Obligations

FY 2010

FY 2011

FY 2012

FY 2013

FY 2014


Total Death Obligations







Total Disability Obligations







Total Education Obligations







Grand Total







Note: Federal Government fiscal years are from October 1st - September 30th.



And this was provided by Michigan's PSOB office (we can assume "Benefit paid" was $25,000):

In 2013, 105 law enforcement offices were killed in the line of duty, 3 of them in Michigan. Here is a breakdown:


  Gunfire 30  
  Automobile accident 25  
  Heart attack 10  
  Struck by vehicle 8  
  Vehicular assault 5  
  Fall 4  
  Motorcycle accident 4  
  Vehicle pursuit 4  
  Drowned 2  
  Gunfire (accidental) 2  
  Stabbed 2  
  Training accident 2  
  9/11 related illness 1  
  Aircraft accident 1  
  Boating accident 1  
  Bomb 1  
  Duty related illness 1  
  Electrocuted 1  
  Fire 1  



There were 81 firefighter deaths in 2012, the latest report available. Three of them occurred in Michigan. Here they are, broken down by activity (source, page 10):

  Fireground operations 22  
  Other on duty 16  
  Responding 15  
  After the incident 12  
  Training 8  
  On-scene nonfire 6  





Here they are broken down by cause (source, page 13):

  Stress/overexertion 45  
  Vehicle collision 18  
  Struck by 7  
  Other 4  
  Collapse 4  
  Fall 1  
  Caught/trapped 1  
  Contact with






As I said in my September 26 story, military servicemen and women killed in line of duty don't fare nearly as well. Their survivors get only $100,000. However, if they are in government housing, they may stay there for 180 days. Service members also carry life insurance that pays $400,000 unless they opt for a lesser amount, but they have to pay for it. Premiums of $29 per month for the maximum $400,000 coverage are deducted from military pay.


These "death in the line of duty" payments for public safety workers are a poor way to provide for survivors. Life insurance would be much more appropriate, since it would cover all deaths, not just "in line of duty" deaths. The Hometown Heroes Survivors Benefit Act extended coverage to heart attacks and strokes, but they must occur within 24 hours of non-routine stressful or strenuous activity. It is often a judgment call as to whether a death qualifies, and it takes an office full of bureaucrats - people on the government payroll - to make that call. A September 3, 2015 story in USA Today says there are long delays in paying benefits.


Ordinarily (as I said September 26), an individual is responsible for insuring himself, and for good reason: some need it and some don't. If you don't have family that is dependent on your earnings, there is no need for life insurance. Government-funded life insurance for public safety workers who have no dependents is a waste of taxpayer money. A Michigan firefighter who died earlier this year had no dependents. His elderly parents, who don't live in Michigan, will (I assume) receive $333,604.68 from the feds and $25,000 from the state.


The duty death payments do serve to publicize those deaths and further glorify public safety work in the eyes of the public. That encourages politicians to shower benefits on them. Here is what they get in Michigan:

  1. An exemption from right-to-work.

  2. A right to binding arbitration in labor disputes.

  3. An exemption from the pension tax. Actually, it is not specifically public safety workers whose pensions are are exempt from the state income tax; it is any employees who do not participate in Social Security. But the groups who don't participate are typically public safety workers, and the exemption is unjustified. These employees are not disadvantaged by not participating in Social Security; they will receive no Social Security benefit, but neither do they contribute 12.4% of their salaries to the program (half from the employee, half from the employer).

  4. An exception to the law prohibiting wage increases while negotiations continue after a collective bargaining agreement has expired. This became law just 3 weeks ago (October 15 - Public Act 322). Actually, the exception is for employee groups subject to compulsory arbitration, but the only groups subject to compulsory arbitration are public safety workers. The Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) claims credit for "materially and substantively" writing the amending language. The Police Officers Association of MI Legislative Fund is 64th on the list of highest spending PACs in the period 1/1/2013-10/20/2014.

October 15, 2014 - Governor Snyder signs HB 5097 into law (Public Act 322). Behind him left to right: POAM executive board member Dan Kuhn, bill sponsor Rep. John Walsh, POAM lobbyist Tim Ward, POAM executive board member/Deputy Sheriffs Association president Dave La Montaine, POAM president Jim Tignanelli, and POAM legislative director Kenneth E. Grabowski.


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