Press Room

New State Support For Families Of Fallen Peace Officers, Fire Fighters

New Law Establishes Iowa Public Safety Survivor Fund

DES MOINES, Iowa - New state support is available to help with ongoing insurance costs for the families of Iowa peace officers and fire fighters who die in the line of duty.

"This will help with a significant real-world concern for the families in these tragic circumstances," said Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens.

A new law that took effect Monday created a state program called the Iowa Public Safety Survivor Benefits Fund. The new fund will provide grants to organizations that provide assistance to help pay the costs of ongoing accident or health care insurance coverage for the surviving family members of Iowa peace officers and fire fighters killed on the job. The program will receive funding each year through the proceeds that the Iowa Lottery raises for state causes.

State officials held a news conference Tuesday at the Iowa Peace Officer Memorial on the grounds of the State Capitol in Des Moines to highlight the new program. Gov. Kim Reynolds had signed the legislation creating the program into law on May 22.

"This memorial is a reminder to us all about our public servants who have died in the line of duty," said Rep. Mike Sexton, R-Rockwell City, one of the main backers of the legislation that created the new program. "Insurance coverage is one of the immediate concerns their survivors can face, and it's right that we find a way to help them continue that coverage."

Sexton, who farms near Rockwell City, said the insurance difficulties of surviving families became clear in his Calhoun County community of about 1,700 when a police officer there was killed. Rockwell City Police Officer Jamie Buenting was shot and killed during a standoff on Sept. 13, 2013.

Sexton said that insurance coverage has been a difficulty for Buenting's widow and two children, as well as his community, which does not have a large city budget.

"It's my hope that this new program can be a meaningful solution," Sexton said.

Rep. Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton, a retired lieutenant from the Newton Police Department, said he was proud to support the legislation, knowing full well the difference it can make.

"The families of these fallen heroes deserve care and support," Breckenridge said. "I believe we've made significant progress in this conversation about insurance realities, and I pledge to keep monitoring as this new program is implemented to ensure we're providing help that is effective."

The new Survivor Fund is the latest development in a years-long discussion about insurance for the surviving family members. Until 2018, if an Iowa peace officer or fire fighter died in the line of duty, the state, county or city government for which the person had worked was not authorized to continue accident or health insurance coverage for that person's surviving family members.

In 2018, state law was changed to allow that continuing coverage option for surviving family members and for the state, county or city involved to pay the full cost or a portion of the insurance cost. If the full amount of the coverage is not paid, the family members can opt to pay the remaining cost themselves.

Some families and small communities have had difficulty paying the insurance costs, and that is where the new Survivor Fund comes in. The Iowa Department of Public Safety will award grants each year through the fund, with half the money going to nonprofit organizations that help with the ongoing insurance costs for surviving families of peace officers killed in the line of duty, and half going to nonprofit organizations that help with those costs for the surviving family members of fire fighters killed in the line of duty.

The department is directed by the new state law to give consideration in making the grants to the Concerns of Police Survivors Inc., the Iowa Professional Fire Fighters Inc., and similar nonprofit organizations that provide such assistance.

The Iowa Lottery will provide $100,000 in proceeds each year to the Survivor Fund. In discussions of the concept during the 2019 legislative session, state lawmakers said they believed $100,000 in state support would be enough to help with insurance costs for the families involved.

The Iowa Lottery will make its first transfer to the Survivor Fund in late October as part of its initial quarterly proceeds transfer to the state for the 2020 fiscal year. It will continue to transfer proceeds to the fund each October.

During Tuesday's event, Iowa Lottery CEO Matt Strawn said it was especially poignant to be discussing the Survivor Fund as the Fourth of July holiday approached.

"This is something that hits home for all of us as we think about the men and women who are working to keep us safe, particularly during a busy holiday week," he said. "We view this initiative as a recognition of our Iowa values and the good that can flow to the state from its lottery."

Commissioner Bayens noted that many of the details regarding the new fund are currently being finalized, including the administrative rules that will govern its operation. He said that once those rules have been adopted, DPS will open the application process for nonprofit organizations interested in receiving grants from the Survivor Fund. Bayens said that the department hopes to begin the application process in late calendar year 2019 or early 2020, and DPS will make a grant application form available at that time.

Initial details about the Survivor Fund are available on the DPS website at http://www.dps.state.ia.us under the "Commissioner's Office" link.

Return to top↑