Legislative Gazette May 14, 2015 at 8:04:03 PM EDT.

Cuomo joins push for better disability benefits for NYC finest, bravest

City cops and firefighters seeking 75 percent of their salaries if they become disabled

By JACKIE DAVIS, Gazette Staff Writer

  Photo by Karla Coté
  Gov. Andrew Cuomo addresses a large group of New York City first responders who traveled to Albany last week seeking better disability benefits. The police and firemen receive just 50 percent of their current salaries after a 2009 decision by Gov. David Paterson. A bill in the state Legislature would restore these benefits and align them with the levels received by every other police and fire department in the state.
  Photo by Karla Coté
  Above and below, Uniformed New York City firemen and police officers say their disability benefits, on average, equate to about $27 a day. They are hoping Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council will increase their benefits or that state lawmakers take matters into their own hands and restore their benefits legislatively. Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke at their rally and signaled support for their cause.
  Photo by Karla Coté

"We are here for a very simple reason," Gov. Andrew Cuomo told an enthusiastic crowd of New York City firefighters and cops on the east lawn of the state Capitol last week. "The state of New York made a mistake in 2009. We passed a pension bill and the pension bill has a real injustice to the city of New York."

Six years ago, state legislation reduced the disability coverage for New York City police and fire rescue to 50 percent of their final average salary if injured on the job.

New York City's bravest and finest, — and their allies in Albany — argue that after Social Security and taxes the compensation would equal about $10,000 a year or $27 a day.

While the rally in Albany commenced, the New York City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio approved a proposal that would give firefighters and police some of what they were asking for in Albany. Under this proposal, injured first responders hired after 2009 would receive 75 percent of their salaries if they are collecting Social Security disability insurance and unable to work. If they do not qualify for Social Security, they would receive 50 percent of their salaries. 

While this is a step in the right direction, it is not what the hundreds of people who traveled to Albany were rallying for, says Jim Slevin, vice president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, argues that the policy proposed by the Mayor isn't enough.

"This policy fails to recognize the dangers of firefighting. We are going to lobby against this bill," Slevin said.

Those at the rally in Albany last Wednesday hope to revert back to the disability policy that was in place before 2009. The dispute could be settled by an agreement with city officials, or it could be resolved via legislation at the state level.

Bill S.1000-a, supported by Sen. Rich Funke, R-Fairport, seeks to establish "real" disability protection for city firefighters and police officers by raising their pension from 50 to 75 percent of their final average salary not further reduced by taxes or Social Security. Every police officer and fire fighter in the state of New York, excluding New York City, already receives these benefits.

"Every other cop and every other firefighter in the state of New York gets 75 percent and New York City gets 50 percent, and then we deducted the Social Security, which would come out to as little as $27 a day, and the bottom line is, how is this fair, how is this right?" Cuomo asked.

Passed by the Senate on June 1, this bill still needs to be approved by the Assembly. That version (A.5133) is sponsored by Joe Morelle of Rochester, the Assembly Majority leader, and resides in the Local Governments Committee.
"Every firefighter and police officer deserves equal disability benefits because they all take the same risks in protecting the lives of their fellow New Yorkers. Anything less is inadequate," said Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steve Cassidy. "The City Council's lack of transparency on this issue is a stain on democracy. Its refusal to correct the mistake made by Governor Paterson in 2009 is a serious blow to public safety and is simply inexcusable."

Assemblyman Matt Titone, D-North Shore, said he is determined to push de Blasio into action.

"I'm very happy to tell this mayor 'Look, if any of these guys really wanted to be behind a desk doing almost nothing, they would have run for mayor,'" Titone said.

According to Titone, if someone has been injured on the job but can still walk, they are most likely subject to desk work.
Sen. Martin Golden, a former New York City police officer, expressed his sympathy for those in attendance by sharing his own story. Golden was hurt in the line of duty which permanently affected his knees. He said he knows firsthand the struggle of coming back from an injury and not being able to do what he used to, like protecting his partner.

"The City Council did the wrong thing today, the city council voted out a home rule message that is a three-quarter bill that would require you to be significantly injured needing social security in order to get a three-quarter disability in the city of New York," said Sen. Martin Golden, R-Brooklyn.

This was followed by loud "boos" from the crowd. But when Golden called for action by the state Legislature to restore the previous benefits, the mood shifted and "Marty, Marty, Marty!" was chanted by the hundreds of uniformed men and women in the crowd.

Golden questioned if state lawmakers could live on $27 a day and suggested changing their salary until they came to the "right" decision.

"You'll talk to some downstate that'll say this is about dollars and cents and we know whether the patch says PD or the patch says FD, this is not about dollars and cents, this is about our brothers and sisters, this is about right and wrong," said Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

Recently, the Senate has passed several other bills that seek to support emergency responders. Bill (S.2727) sponsored by Joseph Griffo would allow volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers to receive both the volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers tax credit and a locally enacted real property tax exemption. The Assembly Bill is sponsored by William Magee, D-Nelson.

Legislation (S.3126) sponsored by Sen. Funke would grant academic credits for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers who successfully complete a related internship or independent study program. The Assembly bill is sponsored by Steve Englebright, D-Setauket.

Another bill (S.1473), sponsored by Sen. Golden would offer two tuition-free classes at the City University of New York to FDNY employees. New York City police officers already receive a similar benefit. The Assembly bill is sponsored by Peter Abbate, D-Bensonhurst.

The supporters of these bills, backed by hundreds of New York City first responders, are calling on the Assembly to pass the legislation.