Retirement for Federal First Responders Preserved by New Law

On December 9, President Joe Biden signed the First Responder Fair RETIRE Act into law. The act was passed unanimously by the Senate in November and grants tens of thousands of firefighters, Customs and Border patrol officials, law enforcement officers, and other public safety officials the ability to continue to receive full benefits from the retirement system they’ve paid into, even if they move to a different federal job after being injured in the line of duty.

The act also allows these employees to receive a refund of their contributions if they leave federal service before reaching their annuity.

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The new legislation passed with widespread support from employee organizations as well as federal unions.

Representatives Gerry Connolly of Virginia (D-VA), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and Jim Langevin (D-RI) introduced the bill to the House of Representatives, which passed it unanimously this July. The bill was first introduced in the Senate by Senator Jon Tester of Montana back in 2016.

“I thank Senator Tester for his unwavering support in getting the First Responder Fair RETIRE Act across the finish line and President Biden for signing it into law,” said Rep. Connolly in a statement. “Our bipartisan legislation will ensure federal firefighters, law enforcement officials, Border Patrol officers, and other federal first responders qualify for full retirement benefits if they are injured on the job.”

Previously, if public safety employees could no longer continue working due to a work-related disability, federal policy prevented them from retiring under the same specialty system, which upended “years of service to this nation and responsible planning for the future,” said Ken Thomas, national president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE).

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the recruitment of federal firefighters found this lack of a safety net for public safety employees to be a significant problem facing the workforce. If firefighters were unable to return to their original jobs post-injury, they would lose their special retirement benefits, which was a major drawback for many considering the career.

The new law finally addresses that sticking point: “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,” Sen. Tester said in a statement.