Nearly two years after Congress extended death benefits to police and firefighters who have fatal heart attacks or strokes during emergency calls, no money has been distributed to dozens of families who could be eligible for more than $275,000 each, USA Today reports. Since 1976, the “Hometown Heroes” program has provided payments to survivors of more than 4,500 federal, state, and local police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty. No payments have been made in the new category of cases because the Justice Department did not come up with a proposed process for vetting claims until late last month. The process can’t be finalized until after a public comment period ends Sept. 26. “It is disappointing it has taken this long,” says Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.), author of the law.
Domingo Herraiz of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance says that for two years, the department has been consulting with police and fire organizations to make sure that the process for examining death claims is fair and efficient. “If we didn’t take the time now (to establish guidelines), it would take twice as long to rule on a case as it came in,” he says.