NY Post - March 24, 2015by Post Editorial Board
March 21, 2015 The FDNY got the call too late to save the seven children who perished in Saturday’s horrific fire in Midwood, Brooklyn. But it’s increasingly easy to imagine engines pulling up to the scene of a raging inferno — and having some of the crew hesitate before rushing in.
Here’s the problem: Right now, young firefighters or cops who become disabled on the job have to live on $27 a day if they retire because they can no longer do the work for which they signed up.
Dare these 20-somethings charge deep into a burning building (or take a risk to nail a perp as shots are flying) when they know it might leave them trying to support their families on $10,000 a year?
Even a moment’s hesitation can put lives, uniformed and civilian, at added risk.
The Uniformed Firefighters Association is pushing City Hall to address the issue — with zero luck. (The Finest have the same worry, but they’re letting the Bravest lead.)
OK, a cop or firefighter who has been crippled can stay on at some desk job. But it’s surely fairer to compensate them for the injury and let them build new lives.
Disability benefits for new hires changed after then-Gov. David Paterson vetoed a 2009 bill amid the state’s financial woes after the 2008 financial crisis.
Previous cop and firefighter classes retired on disability at three-quarters pay, tax-free. Post-2009 classes only get 50 percent — and it’s not only taxable, it’s cut back by the amount of any Social Security disability benefits they receive.
The city cites an estimate that giving the FDNY and NYPD post-2009 classes the same treatment as their seniors would cost $40 million the first year — and rise sharply, to nearly $100 million in just a few years.
But that estimate, the UFA points out, is based on a bad assumption. City Hall’s accountant figured 75 percent of those classes would retire on disability — based on the rates from the last 10 years. Those rates, the UFA notes, were tragically inflated because of 9/11. The historical rate is 40 percent.
We’re not saying the UFA should get its “ask.” Maybe the answer is to rethink disability entirely, going forward — and compensate for crippling injuries with lump-sum payments, or some annuity that’s not tied to working income. Maybe some other compromise is best.
But the status quo stinks.
Resolving the issue is up to the state Legislature. But the action has to start with a “home-rule message” from the City Council — and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito pretty plainly won’t move on that without a nod from the mayor, and he won’t give it.
We get Mayor de Blasio’s caution here. Everyone recalls the disability scams The Post has uncovered, such as retired FDNY Lt. John McLaughlin (a k a “Johnny Lungs”), who won an $86,000 disability pension for bronchial ailments — then competed in marathons and triathlons.
The hit to the budget might not be $40 million, but it’s not free. The city may need the UFA and cop unions to offer some giveback or tradeoff to balance the costs.
A spokesman for the administration told The Post that the mayor means to address the problem, that he’s “committed to working together with police and firefighters to protect these brave public servants.”
The first step on that, Mr. Mayor, is to take a meeting and get the dialogue going. Aren’t you running a little late?