State death benefits for fallen officers vary greatly
Friday, June 27, 2014
Administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the federal death benefit for first responders is the same for all survivors — currently $333,604.68, adjusted Oct. 31 each year — but state death benefits vary widely. In some states, these benefits are complicated and require direct interaction with state officials, who are often hard to identify and sometimes even harder to reach by phone.
This survey focuses solely on state death benefits, and in particular the one-time, lump-sum death benefit — if the state has one — payable to the survivors of an officer killed in the line of duty. It is important to note that most states have substantial death benefits available to the survivors beyond the one-time payment.
Of the states surveyed, 30 have a lump-sum death benefit. The amount varies from $12,000 to $250,000. Almost all are payable in one payment, but a few stretch the payments out over a period of years.
Of those states without a one-time, lump-sum death benefit, some have death benefits based on a percentage of the salary, pension and workers' compensation. California benefits, for example, are substantial, but are paid through workers' compensation in various amounts.
Some states have no one-time death benefit, choosing instead to pay survivor benefits as a percentage of the fallen officer's wage. All states will pay a pension benefit, although again those vary substantially, and all states have workers' comp available to the survivors. Some states pay workers' comp for the life of the spouse. Child benefits can continue to 23 years of age in some states, if the child is still a dependent.
Workers' comp benefits are usually above 60 percent of the officer's salary. The amount of the benefit varies widely. Differences are:
- Time limitations (fixed number of weeks)
- Some benefits terminate if the spouse remarries
- Fixed distribution percentages regarding children
- Some benefits payable until death
Additional benefits for survivors include:
- Health insurance
- Funeral benefits
- Some states offer total exemption of the homestead from all "ad valorem taxes"
- College for spouse and children
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