Nov 18, 2021
Joe Biden Signs First Responder Benefits Bill Speech Transcript
President Joe Biden signed a bill providing benefits to first responders on November 18, 2021. Read the transcript of the remarks here.
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Joe Biden: (00:00)
… them standing up for me. No reason why they should either. They should be standing for Pat. Pat, he had a great speech. Thank you. Okay. Well, Vice-President Harris, the Attorney General Garland and Secretary Mayorkas, I want to thank you for your leadership and in a moment I’ll be signing the law three bills that extend critical support to our law enforcement and first responders and the communities they serve. I want to thank everyone who worked together to pass each of these bipartisan bills, emphasize bipartisan bills. Before I turn to the specific of the bills, I want to say that when you look at what our communities need, our law enforcement’s being asked to do, it’s going to require more resources, not fewer resources. That’s why my administration is investing in the community policing we know works, and the training and partnership the law enforcement and our communities have requested and in community-based programs and interventions that can stop violence before it starts.
Joe Biden: (01:02)
Think about what we ask of police officers. We ask them to be everything from counselors to law enforcement officer, to the fit folks who have to take down the bad guy. I mean everything in between, and so just this morning, the Department of Justice released a significant new investment in community policing through community-oriented policing services. Everything has an acronym. It’s called COPS Program. These grants, which total nearly $140 million will go to 183 law enforcement agencies and allow them to fund over 1000 new law enforcement positions and to fund other initiatives to build legitimacy and trust in communities, to address gun violence and other violent crimes and to combat hate and domestic extremism, and to enhance the response to people in crisis. You know, in addition, this announcement along with the historic funding and the American Rescue Plan means communities have the resources now available for the community violence intervention, than more than they’ve ever had before.
Joe Biden: (02:02)
We’re talking about programs like Violence Interrupters, who work as a compliment to police in identifying those most likely to be involved in gun violence, stopping it from happening to begin and put those at risk, who put those people at risk and put them on a better road to life. So, we get them, we divert them before they get into the bad stream to begin with, and I want to thank the folks in front of me for doing that. And I want to thank the attorney general, Attorney General Garland for leading these efforts as well. Today’s investment and the bills that I’m about to sign, share a goal of helping law enforcement officers and first responders be the protectors and the partners our communities need. The first bill I’ll sign is the COPS Counseling Act. The law is modeled after successful laws in Nevada, and I want to thank Senator Cortez Masto.
Joe Biden: (02:53)
Thank you very much what you did as attorney general in Nevada and what you continue to do. My good friend, Senator Leahy, who’s been working on these things for a long time and Todd Young and Tom Tillis, representative David Trone and [inaudible 00:03:13] Where, there you are. I was looking around, and I didn’t see you. I apologize. By the way, David worked closely with our special guest here today. Angela Bomba, widow of Montgomery County Police Officer Thomas Bomba, whose painful experience helped inspire this bill. Every day, our nation’s police officers answer the call and confront scenes that can take a toll on them as well and leave them traumatized. You know, it’s not fundamentally different than folks in the battlefield. Awful lot of people come home without any physical wounds, but come home with post-traumatic stress and responding to terrible incidences. Well, the same happens for our law enforce officers arriving in homicide scenes, handling child abuse cases.
Joe Biden: (04:04)
As they confront these situations, they need some help. We need to help them recover from the invisible wounds that their work can inflict. These wounds are no different from wounds that I said our military encounters on the battlefield. According to one study, law enforcement officers are 54% more likely to die by suicide than the average American, because they’re under such enormous pressure. They see things none of us ever see. The vast majority of law enforcement officers tell us that peer support programs are the most helpful mental health resource there is, and that makes sense. If you hold just a second, it makes you, when you think about it, law enforcement, as well as the military, all taught to be stand on your own. Don’t ask for anything. You can do it. Just take care of yourself, and it’s an enormous burden we put on people and it’s really difficult, I’ve learned working so diligently with the military community.
Joe Biden: (05:02)
It’s so hard to get them to say, “Hey, I need some help. I need some help.” I want you to know a wound that is imposed on your mind is no different than if you broke your arm or got shot in the leg. It’s the same thing. It’s the same thing. It deserves to be treated, and it deserves the respect that you, that goes along with that, because the strongest support and the best guidance often come from someone who has walked in their shoes. However, many officers don’t access peer support, because they have concerns about privacy and confidentiality, and only about half the states have confidentiality protections. But this bill, I want to thank the Congress for this, encourages first responders agencies to adapt peer counseling programs, require the Department of Justice to make the best practices and resources publicly available for people who want to become peer support mentors, and ensure confidentiality to federal law enforcement officers who use peer counseling services, with the only exception being admission of a criminal conduct and/or a threat of serious physical harm.
Joe Biden: (06:08)
My hope is by giving more officers access to confidentiality and high-quality mental health resources, we’re reduce the stigma around seeking help and lead to better policing and prevent suicides. Put simply we’ll get more officers the help they need so they can better help their communities they serve. The next bill I’ll be signing is the Protect America’s First Responders Act. I want to thank Senator Gillibrand and thank you very much, and Bill, I want to thank you, Pascrell and Brian Fitzpatrick, Joe Courtney, they’re all near neighbors where I used to represent, for their leadership in supporting those who are disabled or killed from the service of the community. You know, when our nation’s firefighters, disaster relief workers, EMT, law enforcement officers, and other first responders respond to that radio alert, they run toward the danger while others are running away. They know there’s a risk of them getting injured or worse.
Joe Biden: (07:10)
When they go to work each day, their families wait for that phone call that they’re going to get that phone call that something’s happened. Public Safety Officer’s Benefits Program was originally established to provide death benefits to officers who fall on the line of duty, so that if, God forbid, their family gets that call, they don’t also lose their house, their car and their left bereft in terms of economic capacity. It has since been expanded to provide disabilities and education benefits and increases the number of first responders who are eligible, including children born after the fact. So, it’s really important and Pat, you and I used to discuss this all the time in Judiciary 120 years ago here. But the truth is, now with over 1000 claims a year to review, the program has been slow and inconsistent when it comes reviewing claims and supporting first responders and families, including those who responded on 9/11. The law has to change.
Joe Biden: (08:13)
You’re doing that. You’re changing the law to do that, and it’s going to make sure this program processes claims more quickly and speeds up payments, makes clear the public safety officers who are acting in an emergency situation, no matter the jurisdiction, are covered and broadly defines what it means to be permanently disabled. Before this law, first responders permanently disabled in the line of duty were only eligible for benefits programs if they could never again, perform any of the compensated work that they performed. Now, what you guys and women have changed is you allowed the disabled first responders who can’t do the work they have been trained for, but still can perform tasks and take on work that’s therapeutic for them, to do these jobs without losing the benefits, at the same time, getting both the pay and the benefit if it’s in a different area. There’s a line inscribed in the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial.
Joe Biden: (09:10)
You’ve all seen it many, many times. In valor, there is hope. In valor, there is hope. Well, as one of the leaders of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Foundation pointed out, this bill restores their sense of valor, and with that comes a lot of hope. The third and final bill I’ll sign is named Jaime Zapata and Victor, excuse me, Avila. I didn’t want to mispronounce it. I hope I pronounced it correctly because it’s important. Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents who have, were ambushed by a drug cartel hit man in Mexico in 2011. The assailants tried to pull agent Zapata from the driver’s seat of the vehicle and shooting him six times. Agent Avila, despite having been shot was able to push Zapata’s leg down on the accelerator and escape the attack. Unfortunately, Agent Zapata later died of his wounds. That tragedy was compounded by another tragedy, a miscarriage of justice. The murder convictions against the two killers responsible for the murder were overturned on appeal.
Joe Biden: (10:25)
It was overturned because the law didn’t make clear that the Department of Justice can prosecute anyone who kills or attempts to kill a federal law enforcement officer outside the United States. Thankfully, the murderers remain in prison, being convicted of other incidents stemming from that same incident. But this bill is going to protect agents serving abroad and send a message to drug cartels, terrorists, and criminals, wherever they operate that if you attack our agents, you will not escape our justice. I want to thank Senator Coons and Senator Cornyn for that legislation. And Representative, excuse me, Henry [Cay Mor inaudible 00:11:04] and Michael McCall, Steve Chabot, and other leaders for their leadership on this bill. In just a minute I’ll sign these bills and they’re good and important bipartisan bills.
Joe Biden: (11:18)
But I want to thank the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officers and other law enforcement organizations that have been constructive players in negotiating over meaningful police reform. So, I’m asking bipartisan leaders here today to come together with them as you’ve done before, to finally pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, but that’s next. Now, I want to sign each of these bills. I want to, God bless you all and may God protect all our law enforcement officers and first responders throughout the nation. Thank you. I’m going to sign these bills.
Joe Biden: (12:00)
By the way, it is a tradition when you sign the bill, you give the signing pen to the authors of the bill, but I don’t have that many pens with me. So, I’m going to make sure everyone will get a pen. Everyone will get a pen. I’m not trying to hoard the pens, guys. Okay. Hi. What’s your name? Nice to meet you. How old are your?
Speaker 3: (12:43)
Joe Biden: (12:44)
Seven years old. Well, you’re smart. What grade are you in?
Speaker 6: (12:47)
Joe Biden: (12:51)
First grade. Well, that’s great man. Thank you for being here. You okay? Maybe after this, I can show you the [inaudible 00:12:58] White House. Do you want to see it? Okay. Okay. Here we go. All right. Okay. [inaudible 00:13:18] Oh, I can read that. We got the same group up here? [inaudible 00:14:03]Don’t leave, okay? I’m going to see you afterwards.
Speaker 7: (14:17)
Hi. I’m thank you for doing my job. [inaudible 00:14:17] You did such a good job. You did such a good job.
Speaker 8: (14:18)
How are you?
Speaker 7: (14:18)
How you doing?
Speaker 8: (14:18)
Speaker 7: (14:18)
[inaudible 00:14:18] Watch that guy behind you.
Speaker 8: (14:47)
God bless you.
Joe Biden: (14:47)
All right. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. All right. Now we’ll sigh the third bill.
Speaker 9: (14:58)
Joe Biden: (14:58)
Speaker 10: (14:58)