Newtown’s State Representatives Mitch Bolinsky, Dan Carter, and DebraLee Hovey joined their colleagues March 6 in unanimously passing a bill to help the first responders of the Newtown tragedy. According to Rep Bolinsky, the vote was 143 to 0 with only eight lawmakers absent.
“This bill is a common sense solution to a growing concern,” Rep Bolinsky told The Bee. “This will provide some necessary support, especially to all our volunteers and paraprofessionals who rushed in to help or were in dangerously close proximity as the Sandy Hook incident unfolded.”
Rep Bolinsky also credited Senator John McKinney for helping to originate the action.
“Dan, DebraLee, and I all spoke in support and all co-sponsored,” Mr Bolinsky said. “John McKinney was one of the lead sponsors, along with the other leadership.”
Rep Bolinsky said the Newtown delegation had “great support from everyone, especially Larry Cafero, Brendan Sharkey, and Joe Aresimowicz, all of whom worked hard and in admirably bipartisan way to do good and important, humanitarian work without cost to Connecticut taxpayers.”
According to Rep Hovey, she was told many first responders including Newtown police officers have had a difficult time returning to work and have been seeking counseling services only to be concerned their sick time or leave benefits would run out.
In a prepared statement, she also said many were out on leave without pay while they continued to deal with the aftermath of what they saw. Newtown Human Resources Director Carol Ross and Police Chief Michael Kehoe subsequently contacted The Bee regarding the loss of pay, however, stating that scenario never occurred.
Ms Ross said she reviewed police payroll records, and no one has lost pay. She said all police personnel involved have continued to receive full pay since 12/14.
Chief Kehoe added that some local officers might have temporarily lost access to overtime and extra duty, but the town is closely monitoring payroll situation to be sure its officers continue to receive full pay and benefits.
Rep Hovey has since retracted that statement. She told The Bee, “I was led to believe there were individuals not being compensated. I understand the town is providing information to the contrary. I apologize for the misunderstanding and retract that quote.”
House Bill 6599 is titled An Act Establishing the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Program and Fund, Clarifying the Calculation of Survivor Benefits, and Authorizing a Waiver of the State-Wide Mastery Examination Requirement for Certain Newtown Students.
Who Gets Help?
The bill provides mechanisms to deliver financial assistance to certain people who suffered a mental or emotional impairment related to the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, its grounds, and the immediate vicinity, including the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company, between 8 am and midnight on December 14, 2012, and the Sandy Hook Elementary School and its grounds on December 15, 2012.
“The events of that tragic December day are beyond comprehension and we can never thank those who were there within minutes protecting our children, assessing the threats, and assuring our safety enough,” Rep Hovey said. “The things they experienced and saw and will continue to remember for the rest of their lives are things the rest of us will never understand. The men and women who put their emotions aside and did such a difficult job in our time of crisis deserve the support this legislation provides. I am honored we were able to come together to hopefully provide some relief for them in their time of need.”
The Office of Victim Services (OVS) will serve as the program administrator. The fund does not use taxpayer money, instead collecting charitable donations from public and private sources.
The Office of the State Treasurer will receive the donations and hold the funds while claims are administered.
Eligible claimants can receive financial assistance for uncompensated leave from their employment if the mental or emotional impairment caused a total or partial disability preventing them from working. They can also receive payments for related medical expenses that are not covered by their own health insurance.
OVS must begin accepting applications for benefits by April 1, 2013, and benefit payments will end on August 31, 2015. The bill limits each claimant to a total of 52 weeks of benefits.
It also establishes a process for claimants to appeal initial decisions on their claims.
Governor Dannel P. Malloy commended members of the General Assembly for providing relief to those who have been affected by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“While 82 days have passed, the anguish of that day is still raw for many. In the depth of that anguish, we in government have undertaken a critically important debate, one where complete consensus will be difficult if not impossible,” Gov Malloy said. “But that should not stop us from doing the good and decent things that honor those who serve our communities, especially those who have done so admirably in our darkest hour. It is moments like this that make me grateful for the opportunity to serve the residents of our state, and I look forward to signing the bill.”
Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman called the bill another example of how Connecticut has responded to this tragedy with unity and compassion and a real desire to do whatever possible to help those directly affected.
The bill allows claimants to receive financial assistance for uncompensated leave from their employment, regardless of whether a claimant exhausted his or her compensated leave or chose to take uncompensated leave from his or her employment, and related medical expenses not covered by the claimant’s health insurance.
It allows retroactive assistance payments to cover time lost and medical expenses prior to filing a claim, but a claimant cannot receive assistance for more than 52 weeks, including retroactive payments. Assistance payments cannot exceed the fund’s solvency.
Under the bill, assistance payments are not considered part of the claimant’s income for state tax purposes. If the program has insufficient funds to provide full benefits, OVS must provide prorated benefits at its discretion.
The bill establishes the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund and requires the state comptroller and treasurer to pay Sandy Hook Assistance Program assistance payments, operating costs, and expenses at OVS’s discretion. Up to five percent of the fund can be used for administrative or other costs in a calendar year, including hiring necessary employees and performing public outreach and education about the program.
The bill does not appropriate any state funding, but allows the treasurer to accept gifts, donations, and grants from public and private sources for the fund. Money in the fund must be accounted for separately and apart from all other state moneys, and the state’s full faith and credit is pledged for its safekeeping.
Money in the fund must be credited with interest by the treasurer under applicable law.
(This report was modified from the original version that ran at newtownbee.com on March 6, clarifying the allegation in quotes from State Representative DebraLee Hovey that some local 12/14 responders had lost pay while attempting to recover and obtain counseling. She has retracted that quote and corrected language in a related statement.)