For Release March 31, 2015
Staten Island Advance Editorial Board Stands With NY's Bravest:
From that unimaginably tragic house fire in Brooklyn that claimed the lives of seven children in the same family to the spectacular gas explosion and fire in an East Village apartment house that destroyed three buildings and caused scores of people to lose their homes, March has been a month of memorable fires in New York City.
It has also provided several stark examples of the difficult and dangerous job that our firefighters do so supremely well in protecting lives and property.
Advocates for firefighters might give you an argument, but we think it's fair to say that, in terms of compensation, this city pretty much does right by the men and women who do this tough job on our behalf. Of course, that's especially true when firefighters are injured on the job. New Yorkers want their firefighters taken care of when bad things happen to them.
But as occasionally happens when government budget-making priorities collide, there is a notable catch in the compact New Yorkers have with their firefighters: Members of the Fire Department who were hired after July 1, 2009, stand to get disability benefits of just $10,000 a year -- about $192 a week -- if they are injured on the job and can no longer work.
Big disparity in benefits
Obviously, that's not nearly enough for these younger firefighters to support a family or even live on anywhere, let alone in one of the most expensive cities on the planet.
By contrast, their fellow firefighters who were hired before that date can get disability benefits that equal three quarters of their last year's pay and those payments are tax free for life.
The post-July 1, 2009, hires get only half their final year's pay, and that is reduced by the amount of any Social Security disability benefits they receive and subject to taxes. Hence, their disability payments are reduced to a mere $27 a day.
That's not really the result of any policy targeting them. Instead, it's the result of former Gov. David Paterson, desperate because of the state's grave budget crisis at the time, vetoing legislation back in 2009 that would have extended the same disability deal to new hires that was afforded to firefighters hired before then.
Somehow, even though the state's and city's respective fiscal condition has improved markedly since then, the legislative glitch was never corrected. No doubt, the relatively small number of firefighters who are affected by the loophole -- fortunately -- has something to do with the oversight.
And the City of New York appears to be somewhat reluctant to see the loophole closed any time soon. The New York Post reported that city numbers-crunchers claim that extending the better disability benefits to firefighters who came on the job after July 2009 would cost the city $100 million in just a few years.
The Uniformed Firefighters Association, however, vehemently disputes that claim, arguing that the city is using 9/11-inflated FDNY disability numbers in projecting such a high cost.
But, regardless of the numbers involved or the cost, fair is fair. Young firefighters who put their lives on the line to protect New York deserve far better treatment -- the same treatment as their more senior colleagues get automatically -- if they are injured on the job.
Councilman Vincent Ignizio, R-South Shore, rightly pointed out, "The city and indeed this state had many, many politicians who came in 2001 and said, 'We'll never forget.' Everybody had it on their signs, everyone had it on the cars, 'Never forget.' Well it seems that some people in this city, in this state, have forgotten."
'The least we can do'
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis. R-East Shore-Brooklyn, said, "The brave men and women of the FDNY risk their lives each and every day to protect our community and keep us safe. They don't hesitate to run into burning buildings or other dangerous situations to save others, putting their own lives in harm's way. The least we can do as a state is to ensure that, if they are disabled in the line of duty, they get the protection they deserve."
Exactly. But thanks to this quirk in the law prompted by budgetary caution, many won't unless the extending legislation is passed. As Assemblyman Michael Cusick, D-Mid-Island, said: "The veto of the extender bill by the governor in 2009 should never have happened. There is no reason why new hires should not receive the same disability benefits if they are injured. These brave men and women who run into burning buildings to save lives should not have to worry how they will take care of their families should an accident occur."
Probationary firefighter Angela Tepedino of Rossville told the Advance, "Every day I come to work with my head up high, willing to sacrifice, and go above and beyond the call of duty, but all I ask in return is that my family be taken care of, God forbid something should happen to me."
Who can argue with that?
Now it's up to all of Staten Island's elected officials to carry that message to City Hall and make sure the mayor sends the same message, on behalf of all New Yorkers, to our the governor and the state Legislature in Albany.
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