Senate Expands Definition of 'Survivors' Eligible for Benefits

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

( - The Senate this week passed a bill expanding the number of people who are eligible to receive federal survivors' benefits stemming from the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The bill would give federal survivors' benefits ($250,000) to relatives of those police officers, firefighters and chaplains who did not have spouses, children, or parents to survive them.

The Senate bill, named for N.Y. fire chaplain Mychal Judge, will, for example, allow Judge's two sisters to collect federal death benefits to which they would not otherwise be entitled.

Father Judge's sisters aren't the only one who stand to get money under the bill: Certain relatives of nine other public safety officers who died on Sept. 11 would also be eligible for the same benefits already approved for surviving children, spouses or parents.

The Mychal Judge Police and Fire Chaplains Public Safety Officers' Benefit Act was sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Joseph Biden (D-Del.), and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.).

"This bill rights a wrong," said Sen. Leahy, who was the chief sponsor of the Senate bill. "The families of the brave men and women like Father Judge who gave their lives to help others on Sept.11 should not be punished by a legal loophole," he said in a statement released by his office.

According to Sen. Schumer, the people these Sept. 11 heroes loved (albeit not children, spouses or parents) "are just as entitled" to the $250,000 as anyone else. "With this bill, their families will receive the help they deserve," he said.

The House version of the bill, sponsored by Reps. Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), was approved by the House Judiciary Committee in April and is awaiting House floor action.