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PBA Seeks City Council’s “Home Rule” Support for Equal Disability Benefits

The Problem:    
Police officers hired since July 1, 2009 under the Tier 3 pension plan are not afforded an adequate disability pension if they are injured in the line of duty.  They receive a lower level of benefits than their more senior colleagues and every other police officer and firefighter in New York State.  In some cases, this benefit may be as little as $27 a day. 

The Solution:    Bills pending in the New York State Legislature would grant New York City police officers and firefighters under pension Tier 3 the same disability pension benefits as those hired earlier under Tier 2. The Legislature has requested that the New York City Council pass a “home rule” resolution in support of the bills before it will bring them to the floor for a vote.

Who does this affect?

More than 8,000 police officers have been hired under Tier 3.  So far, none have been subjected to this diminished disability benefit, but several injured police officers could face it in the very near future:

  • P.O. James Li was shot in both legs on February 26, 2014 as he attempted to apprehend a gun-toting fare-beater on a Brooklyn bus.  Li had graduated from the Police Academy only two months earlier.  A year after the shooting, Li is still walking with a cane and continuing his rehabilitation in the hope of returning to full duty.  If he is forced to retire, his city-funded benefits will amount to less than $10,000 a year.

  •   P.O. Rosa Rodriguez, a four-year veteran of the NYPD and mother of four, suffered lung damage while responding to an April 6, 2014 arson fire on Coney Island that claimed the life of her partner, P.O. Dennis Guerra.  If she is unable to return to work, she would be left with a disability pension of less than $20,000 a year.  If she had been hired a year earlier, she would receive more than $60,000 a year.

  • P.O. Kenneth Healy sustained a serious head injury when he and three other officers were set upon by a hatchet-wielding terrorist in Queens on October 23, 2014. He has been on the job for less than a year and is eager to get back to work.  But if his injuries put an end to his career, he will also face a pension of just $27 a day.

Who supports the solution?

  • Public Advocate Letitia James:

    "Our police officers and firefighters put their lives on the line every day and we must do right by them. First responders disabled in the line of duty after 2009 must receive the same pension rights as those injured before then. I call upon the State Legislature to move swiftly and restore the law so that police and firefighter pensions return pre-2009 levels." (May 2014 letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo)

  • Former Gov. David Paterson, whose 2009 veto of a Tier 2 extension bill resulted in the placement of police officers and firefighters into Tier 3:

    “But now that this reality is here, I think with [recently-injured police] Officer Rodriguez they can break a rule to reflect her bravery... and then vote to change that rule.” (May 19, 2014 - DNAInfo: “Ex-Gov. Paterson Calls for Pension Law Change to Help Injured NYPD Officer”)

  • NYC City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, who has sponsored a resolution in support of the state legislation:

    “Emergencies don’t care about ‘tiers’... Every emergency responder is taking the same risks, and every emergency responder deserves the same disability benefits ... Our cops and our firefighters are always there when we need them, always there risking their lives for our safety.  Now it is our turn as the City Council to be there for them and their families.” (November 25, 2014 City Hall press conference)

  •  37 City Council Members have signed on to a resolution calling on the State Legislature to equalize disability benefits for all New York City police officers and firefighters.


What is the difference between the Tier 2 and Tier 3 disability pension benefits?

Accident Disability Retirement (both Tier 2 and Tier 3): police officers physically or mentally incapacitated for performance of duty as the natural and proximate result of an accident sustained in such active service and not caused by his/her own willful negligence.

Tier 2 Tier 3 and 3-Revised
Applies to police officers hired before July 1, 2009. Applies to police officers hired after July 1, 2009.
Accident disability pension: 75% of annual earnable income on the date of retirement. Accident disability pension: 50% of Final Average Salary.
Social Security Disability: pension is not diminished by any federal Social Security disability benefits received. Social Security Disability: pension is reduced by 50% of the value of any federal Social Security disability benefits received.
Police officer w/ 1.5 years on the job:
  • Salary: $45,288
  • Base disability pension (75%): $33,966
  • Additional pension benefits: $350
  • Annual disability pension: $34,316
Police officer w/ 1.5 years on the job:
  • Salary: $45,288
  • Base disability pension (50%): $22,644
  • SS Disability Reduction*: -$11,000
  • Annual disability pension: $11,644
* varies based on age

How did this disparity in disability benefits come about?

  • Pension Tier 3 was created 1976 in the aftermath of NYC’s fiscal crisis in the 1970s. Police officers and firefighters were exempted by statutory formula until 1981, then by two-year extensions of Tier 2 benefits from 1981 onward.

  • As a state senator, David Paterson regularly voted for the Tier 2 extension bills.

  • In 2009, the Tier 2 extension bill passed with only 6 ‘no’ votes in the Assembly and none in the Senate. Advisory memos submitted to Gov. Paterson by the Division of Budget, the Office of Employee Relations and other executive branch divisions/departments noted no objection to the bills.

  • Gov. Paterson vetoed the bill on June 2, 2009, citing his intention to include police officers and firefighters in a proposed new pension tier, known as Tier 5, which reduced other pension benefits but maintained the 75%-of-salary accident disability benefit.

  • Mayor Bloomberg, who originally proposed the creation of a new pension tier for city employees, sought even more drastic cuts to police officers’ and firefighters’ pension benefits.  These were not included in the final Tier 5 legislation that Gov. Paterson negotiated with the State Legislature, and New York City police officers and firefighters were left out of the final deal.

How much would the solution cost?

  • The fiscal note attached to the legislation claims that it would cost $35.7 million in the first year.  However, this figure is based on exaggerated assumption about how many police officers will require these benefits.

  • Over the past 10 years, only 15% of police officers who left the NYPD received disability benefits of any type (either for line-of-duty disabilities or non-job-related disabilities). This includes a substantial number of police officers who were injured or made ill by their work during the post-9/11 rescue, recovery and clean-up efforts.  Since Tier 3 members have only been serving since 2009, the incidence of disability retirements among them will likely be much lower.

  • To date, not a single Tier 3 member has been approved for disability retirement, and no such cases are currently pending before the Police Pension Fund.

  • The City Actuary moved in 2011 to increase the PPF’s assumptions for the rate of disability benefits claims by Tier 3 members absent any experiential basis (a move that the PBA opposed) and has used these purely speculative rates to project an inflated cost for the proposed changes.

In an interview with the Chief-Leader last year, outgoing City Actuary Robert North said that injured police officers deserve “a chance to retire with dignity” and it might be cheaper for the city in to improve Tier 3 accident disability benefits than for disabled police officers to continue trying to work in light-duty assignments.