Legislation protects families of fallen public safety officers from tax burden

May 14, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate today unanimously passed legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) that will ensure that death benefits paid to the families of public safety officers who lose their lives in the line of duty are not subject to federal income tax. The House of Representatives passed the legislation on Tuesday, and it now heads to the president to be signed into law. Last week, Ayotte and Shaheen met with local public safety officers in Bedford to discuss the need for their bill, the Don’t Tax Our Fallen Public Safety Heroes Act.

"During National Police Week, we’re reminded that our public safety officers risk their lives every day in order to keep us safe, and sadly, New Hampshire has endured terrible losses where law enforcement officers have been tragically killed in the line of duty," said Senator Ayotte. "I’m pleased that Congress gave final approval to our bill to clarify the law when it comes to reporting public safety officer benefits so that the families of our fallen public safety officers - police and fire – are not saddled with an unfair tax burden in the wake of a devastating tragedy." 

“For too long, families of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty have had to hire lawyers and wait years for the IRS to rule whether their death benefits will be taxed,” said Shaheen. “We owe so much to the families of those fallen first responders who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty and at a time of enormous loss and grief, these families shouldn’t have to wrangle with the IRS. As we recognize National Police Week and remember the heroic service of Officer Stephen Arkell, it’s appropriate that Congress is finally removing all ambiguity in the tax code for these surviving families who need these benefits.”  

While current law states that federal survivor benefits are not subject to federal taxation, New Hampshire law enforcement personnel have expressed concerns about an ambiguity in the law regarding the tax treatment of similar state-based survivor benefits programs, which has caused some families of fallen public safety officers to experience the burden of determining whether those benefits are taxable income. Ayotte and Shaheen introduced the Don't Tax Our Fallen Public Safety Heroes Act in response to those concerns. The legislation would clarify that both federal and state death benefits for public safety officers should be treated the same and are exempt from federal income tax.

The legislation is supported by the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, New Hampshire Association of Sheriffs, New Hampshire Association of Fire Chiefs, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, International Union of Police Associations, National Association of Police Organizations, National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems, National Fraternal Order of Police, National Troopers Coalition, and the Sergeants Benevolent Association of the NYPD.