SOCIAL SECURITY SURVIVORS BENEFITS
Social Security will pay benefits to a surviving spouse and dependent children. An eligible spouse must be at least age 60, or between the ages of 50 and 59 and disabled, or any age and caring for a child under the age of 16 or a disabled child. Children may qualify for benefits if they are under age 18 (or under age 19 if in high school) or disabled. Dependent parents and former spouses may also qualify for survivor benefits. The amount of the benefit depends on the deceased employee’s Social Security earnings and the number of eligible survivors. More information is available at www.ssa.gov/pubs/10084.html. If you don’t know where your nearest Social Security office is, you can use the OFFICE LOCATOR online.
Lump Sum Death Payment:
A lump sum of $255 is payable to a surviving spouse if the deceased employee and the spouse were living together at the time of death, or if the surviving spouse is entitled to survivor benefits. If there is no surviving spouse, the lump sum is paid to eligible children. More information is available at www.ssa.gov/pubs/deathbenefits.htm
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION BENEFITS
NOTE: To any injured firefighter or families of fallen firefighters. Check with an attorney before accepting Workers’ Compensation Benefits payments to determine whether you give up any important legal rights by accepting the payment in any given state.
The Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs of the Department of Labor provides compensation benefits to civilian employees under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act for disability caused by on-duty injury or employment-related disease. Seasonal wildland firefighters are included in this definition. It also provides benefits to dependents, if the injury or disease causes the employee’s death. For more information, check the Department of Labor’s Federal Employees’ Compensation Act pages or their list of key personnel contacts online.
Eligible children can each receive benefits equal to 15 percent of the amount of the employee’s pay at the time of death – and the spouse receives 45 percent. Total compensation is limited to 75 percent of the employee’s pay. If there is no eligible child, the spouse’s compensation is 50 percent of the employee’s pay at the time of death. If children are the sole survivors, 40 percent is paid for the first child and 15 percent to each additional child. Others (dependent parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, and grandchildren) may also be entitled to benefits. The total compensation may not exceed 75 percent of the employee’s pay, and benefits will be reduced if the employee was covered under the Federal Employees Retirement System and the survivors are eligible for Social Security benefits based on the federal employment.
Compensation to an employee’s surviving spouse terminates upon either death or remarriage. However, a widow or widower’s benefit continues if the remarriage takes place after the age of 55. Awards to children, brothers, sisters, and grandchildren terminate at the age of 18 unless the dependent is incapable of self-support or continues to be a full-time student at an accredited institution – until the age of 23 or when the student has completed four years of college-level education.
are payable up to $800 and transportation of the body to the employee’s former residence is provided if death occurred away from the home station. An additional $200 is paid for administrative costs of terminating employee status with the federal government.
Death or disability payments are increased by cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), which are based on a disability or death that occurred more than one year before March 1 of each year. The COLA is effective on March 1 of each year and the increase is equal to the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index published for December of the preceding year.
DEATH GRATUITY PAYMENT
PL 104-208 allows the agency to pay a death gratuity of up to $10,000 for burial costs and out-of-pocket expenses. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) encourages all department and agency heads to make full use of this authority. This also includes an agency employee who dies after separation from service if death resulted from an on-duty injury on or after August 2, 1990. Seasonal wildland firefighters are included. Note that the amount paid under these authorities may not be reduced by any other amounts, including other benefits payable under workers’ comp.
This gratuity payment may not exceed $10,000 in combination with:
up to $800 payable by the Department of Labor to a surviving spouse or children for funeral and burial expenses of a federal employee who died as a result of injuries sustained in the line of duty
$200 payable by the Department of Labor for costs of termination federal employee status
any amount paid under Public Law 103-332 to the representative of any employee of any department or agency with appropriations from the Department of Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act who is killed in the line of duty.
HEALTH INSURANCE BENEFITS
If a federal employee dies while enrolled for self and family coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program, all eligible family members will continue to be covered under FEHB as long as at least one family member is entitled to an annuity as a survivor. The survivor’s share of the premium is deducted from the annuity payments, and the change in enrollment will be processed by the employee’s agency and OPM. Survivors may be able to continue their FEHB coverage even if they don’t receive a monthly survivor annuity benefit. Spouses entitled to death benefits (and children whose FERS benefits are reduced by Social Security benefits) may continue their health insurance by paying premiums directly to OPM.
Eligible family members include a spouse who was married to the federal employee at the time of death, and also unmarried dependent children under age 22. This includes:
a legitimate child
an adopted child
a stepchild, foster child, or recognized natural child who lived with the deceased
a recognized natural child with a judicial determination of support, or to whose support the employee made regular and substantial contributions
an unmarried disabled child, regardless of age, if the disability occurred before age 22
Public Safety Officers’ Educational Assistance Program:
This Department of Justice program provides educational assistance to children and spouses of law enforcement, fire, and emergency public safety officers killed or disabled in the line of duty. It’s available only to those survivors who have received benefits under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program listed under one-time death benefits. The benefits may be used only to defray educational expenses, including tuition, room and board, books, supplies, and other education fees. The allowance, as of 2001, is $404 per month for full-time students, and lesser amounts for part-time students. It covers all eligible survivors of public safety officers killed or permanently disabled on or after January 1978. Contact: PSOB, Bureau of Justice Assistance, 810 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 20531 or call toll-free (888)744-6513.
National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Scholarship Program:
This program offers educational assistance to spouses, children, and stepchildren of firefighters honored at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Application form and information are available online from the NFFF or call (301)447-1365 for assistance.
Retirement under Civil Service Retirement System or Federal Employees Retirement System:
OPM administers both the Civil Service Retirement System ( CSRS ) and the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). These systems cover only full-time employees. An eligible survivor of a federal employee killed in the line of duty may qualify for a recurring CSRS or FERS monthly survivor annuity.
Workers’ compensation benefits and federal retirement benefits cannot usually be paid for the same period of time; the survivor must choose between the two benefits. In most cases, the primary benefits are paid by the Department of Labor. If the survivor chooses workers’ comp benefits, they receive a lump sum payment of the employee’s retirement contribution under CSRS or FERS.
Under both systems, a qualifying survivor is:
A former spouse (if a qualifying court order is on file at OPM)
An unmarried child under age 18
An unmarried child between the ages of 18 and 22, if attending an accredited educational institution full time
An unmarried disabled dependent child, regardless of age, if the disability occurred before age 18
To qualify for a survivor annuity, spouse must have been married at least nine months. That requirement does not apply if there is a child born of the marriage or if death was accidental. If the survivor remarries before age 55, the survivor annuity may be restored if the remarriage ends by death, annulment, or divorce.
A former spouse divorced on or after May 7, 1985, may receive all or part of the annuity otherwise payable to a surviving spouse if a court order requires it. To be eligible, former spouse must have been married to deceased for at least nine months, and must not remarry before age 55.
Survivor annuity begins the day after employee’s death. It continues for life unless former spouse remarries before age 55, or terms of the court order are satisfied. If the survivor annuity is terminated by remarriage before age 55, it will not be reinstated in the future if the remarriage ends, even if the marriage is annulled.