Surrounded by police, firefighters and other first responders Wednesday in Moline, Illinois Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza and Illinois State Rep. Mike Halpin, D-Rock Island, argued for state legislation that would help families of fallen first responders and others.

“This is exactly the kind of legislation that every legislator of any party should support and sign on as a co-sponsor,” Mendoza said at Wednesday’s event at the Moline Police Department, according to a news release. 

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza spoke in favor of a first responders bill at the Moline Police Department, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022.

In 2021, more Illinois police officers died in the line of duty than had been projected. The state legislature had not approved enough funding for families owed death benefits under the Line of Duty Compensation Act, the release says.

The new act provides death benefits for claims filed within one year of the death of a law enforcement officer, civil defense worker, civil air patrol member, paramedic, fireman, chaplain, or state employee killed in the line of duty, or for claims filed within two years of the death of an armed forces member.  

The amount of the Fiscal Year ’22 benefit was $375,000 and increases by the Consumer Price Index each year. The benefit goes to the surviving spouse or next of kin. The state paid 26 claims in Fiscal Year ’22, which was 13 more than had been budgeted for. 

Without enough of an appropriation, families were left waiting several months for the benefits they were owed. 

“It shouldn’t have to come to this. No family should ever have to wait for these payments longer than it takes them to fill out their application and submit it,” Mendoza said. 

Inspired by meeting family

The idea came to her after meeting a family at the Illinois Police Officer Memorial in May 2022 who was still waiting for benefits for their son – a police officer killed by a fleeing suspect in August 2021. 

This measure would ensure that future families will not have to wait any additional time due to lack of funding in order to receive this benefit. The main sponsors are State Rep. Dave Vella, D-Rockford, and State Sen. Christopher Belt, D-Swansea.

“As someone whose grandfather was a police officer and deputy chief of police in the city of Albany, New York, I’m grateful that my grandmother and my father never had to get that call that too many of our officers’ and other first responders’ families get,” said State Rep. Halpin, a co-sponsor of HB 5785. “I’m proud that we’re able to have a bill like we’re seeing today that can try to make the pain of that a little easier, and not be compounded by the failure of the legislature to get something done.” 

Moline Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati (center), with Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza. They held a Line of Duty news conference Nov. 2, 2022. The Comptroller is trying to put more money in the state budget to help families of fallen police officers and firefighters.

Moline Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati also spoke in support of the legislation, saying it would serve as peace of mind for first-responder staff.

“Staff can walk out into the world knowing that if the worst befalls them and their families, there is a safety net that isn’t tied in knots or filled with holes that makes life more difficult for those that they care about,” said Mayor Rayapati.

Chuck Sullivan, president of the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois (which represents over 15,000 firefighters and paramedics), said every year, approximately 100 firefighters die nationally.

In the state of Illinois in 2020, that number was 10, and last year was five. “Each one of those individuals went to work not knowing that they weren’t going home,” said Sullivan.  

“Our great state has chosen to take care of those families, financially and otherwise. What Comptroller Mendoza has mentioned she’s advocating for, and what we’re supporting her in, is a continuous appropriation from the state, so that a family doesn’t have to wait for the General Assembly to act – so they can receive their financial assistance immediately,” he said Wednesday.

Colona chief lends support

Colona Fire Chief John Swan was also in Moline to voice his support for the legislation. He spoke on behalf of the Illinois Firefighters Association and the Illinois Association of Fire Protection Districts. “We need to keep these bills alive and get them passed for the families,” said Swan. 

“Families enduring such a tragic loss should not have to worry about whether the state has the necessary funds on hand for a death benefit they are owed,” said State Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Andalusia. “As a first responder myself, I understand the importance of this legislation and the need to ensure that families, who are already going through so much, receive their benefits in a timely manner after their loved one’s death.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in the General Assembly on this legislation as we soon head back to Springfield,” Anderson said.