Law benefits kids of first responders killed on duty

The Children of Fallen Heroes Scholarship Act was authored by U.S. Reps. Brendan Boyle and Brian Fitzpatrick.

Helping heroes: Ed Marks, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle and John McNesby discussed The Children of Fallen Heroes Scholarship Act. Boyle actually voted against the massive spending bill that included the act. JOHN COLE / TIMES PHOTO

A bipartisan piece of legislation that will make the children of law enforcement and first responders killed in the line of duty eligible for the maximum Pell Grant was signed into law with the omnibus spending package in March.

The legislation was authored by U.S. Reps. Brendan Boyle (D-13th dist.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-8th dist.).

The Children of Fallen Heroes Scholarship Act, H.R. 949, eliminates the “expected family contribution,” which is used to determine Pell Grant eligibility. Those who are eligible under this newly signed law will be children of fallen “law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMS workers and fire police.” Currently, the maximum Pell Grant Award per year for a full-time student for the 2018–2019 award year is $6,095.

For Boyle, this bill was a decade in the making.

“When I was first elected state rep 10 years ago, it coincided with an awful period for the police where we had seven Philadelphia police officers killed within about a year and a half to two years,” said Boyle. “Every few months, I was attending a police officer’s funeral.”

During his time in the state legislature, Boyle pushed for similar legislation, but there was no comparable bill at the federal level, according to him, until this law.

“I think the least we can do as a society is make sure the family (of the fallen hero) is taken care of,” Boyle said.

The bill received the endorsements of the Fraternal Order of Police, International Association of Fire Fighters, National Association of Police Organizations, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, Major Cities of Chiefs of Police, Major Cities Chiefs Association, Major County Sheriffs’ Association, National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition and Sergeants Benevolent Association NYPD.

John McNesby, FOP Lodge 5 president, and Ed Marks, IAFF Local 22 president, have seen first hand what the families of fallen first responders have gone through for quite some time.

For four years, while in the 24th District, McNesby was partners with Sgt. Tim Simpson.

Simpson was killed in the line of duty on Nov. 17, 2008, responding to a robbery while his patrol car was struck by a vehicle being operated by an intoxicated driver.

In a previous role with the Philadelphia Fire Department, Marks was responsible for helping plan the funerals of those killed in the line of duty. Not only did he have to plan the funerals, he lost someone close to him in the department.

“John Redmond was the closest friend of mine in the Fire Department,” Marks said.

Redmond was one of two people killed in the line of duty responding to a fire at the Rising Sun Baptist Church in January 1994.

Marks was also with Lt. Matt LeTourneau at a hockey game just a couple of days before he was killed in the line of duty responding to a fire in a rowhouse in North Philadelphia on Jan 6, 2018.

The PPD and PFD each have thousands of members, but they remain close to one another.

“It seems like they’re big departments, but there not really big departments,” said Marks. “When you look at it, it’s almost like a family.”

McNesby viewed this bill as a human issue, not a political one.

“This legislation is not whether it’s a ‘D’ or an ‘R,’ said McNesby. “This is legislation of the heart….and something that should have been done years ago.”

McNesby detailed how a bill like this should have universal support, but Boyle stated that was actually not the case.

“Believe it or not, there was opposition,” said Boyle.

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, chairwoman of the Education Committee, according to Boyle, was not fond of this bipartisan bill.

“(Foxx), for whatever reason, didn’t like our legislation, so she was holding it up in the Education Committee,” Boyle said. “So getting this attached to other legislation was a nice kind of way to get around her opposition.”

The legislation that Boyle attached it to was the omnibus spending package passed and signed by President Donald Trump. Boyle did not vote for the omnibus bill, citing his disapproval of the “fiscal path that the Trump budget has put us on.”

“That said, I, also believing the omnibus was going to pass, worked hard to try to tuck in there things that I happened to like,” said Boyle.

Boyle emphasized the important role the local unions play in fighting for their workers.

“Unfortunately, I’m not sure every police officer or every firefighter in the country has the benefit of a Local 22 or a Lodge 5 in their area,” said Boyle.

Even the closeness between Lodge 5 and Local 22 is something Boyle, Marks and McNesby agreed is unique and a strength to their community.

“If Eddy (Marks) calls me, it’s done,” said McNesby. “If I call him, I know it’s done.”

Marks even has two daughters who are police officers, while McNesby said he has a daughter who plans on becoming a police officer.

Despite some opposition, Boyle stated the bill received a great amount of support on each side of the aisle, which was key in its passage. ••

John Cole can be reached at JCole@bsmphilly.com