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News Release
Congressman Bob Etheridge
North Carolina

September 6, 2006

                                       Contact: Joanne Peters
                                       Phone: (202) 225-4531

After Three Years of Administrative Foot Dragging, Hometown Heroes Act is a Reality

Law extends federal survivor benefits for first responders

RALEIGH -- U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-Lillington) announced today that after three years of foot dragging by the Administration, the Hometown Heroes Survivor Benefits Act, first introduced by Etheridge in 2002, will go into effect. N.C. Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Jim Long, members of the N.C. Fallen Firefighters Foundation and N.C. first responders joined Etheridge, the only N.C. member of the Homeland Security Committee, in making the announcement.

"The implementation of the Hometown Heroes Act is a victory for first responders in North Carolina and the nation. Our first responders are on the front lines day in and day out protecting our communities, and they deserve the full support of the federal government," said Etheridge.

"The Hometown Heroes Act was the vision of my constituent, Mike Williams, and became a reality because of the support of first responders here in North Carolina and across America. Too often these days you hear that one person can never really make a difference, but for all its flaws and shortcomings, our system can still work when citizens actively participate."

The law will extend federal survivor benefits to the families of firefighters, police officers and emergency workers, who die of heart attack or stroke in the line of duty. It was signed by President Bush on December 15, 2003. In June, Etheridge proposed an amendment to the U.S. Justice Department's funding bill that would have cut funding to the Attorney General's office until they implemented the Hometown Heroes Act.

The Department released the regulations of the Hometown Heroes Survivor Benefits Act in August, nearly three years after the bill became law. The families of the 160 first responders who have died since the act became law will begin to receive their benefits on September 11.

"Although it was irresponsible of the Department to wait so long to issue the rule, it is fitting that it goes into effect on September 11th, a day that all Americans should pause and remember the sacrifices of our firefighters, police officers and other public safety officers," said Etheridge.

The families of any public safety officer who died of a heart attack or stroke in the line of duty since December 15th, 2003, must submit an application to the U.S. Department of Justice to find out if they are eligible. Survivors must file for the benefit within three years of the officer's death, leaving only a few months for those who lost a family member shortly after the bill became law.

Heart attacks and strokes account for nearly half of firefighter deaths each year. Etheridge's bill was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the International Union of Police Associations and the Congressional Fire Services Institute.

This legislation is rooted in North Carolina, born out of a letter written to Etheridge by Mike Williams of Bunnlevel, who worked as the assistant chief of Flat Branch Volunteer Fire Department and in the Office of the State Fire Marshal, and inspired by the death of a North Carolina firefighter. Williams also joined Etheridge in making the announcement.

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