As the nation continues to wage war on the pandemic and act to safeguard its people, there is a certain set of workers that have been in the spotlight of recognition recently: America’s first responders. From doctors and nurses to firefighters and police officers, the first responder population of the country has continued to place themselves on the line to perform their jobs and protect us all. Now, as the debate continues around adequate compensation for affected first responders and their families one question keeps popping up: how can we repay the debt we owe first responders? Well, along with the recently passed Protecting America’s First Responders Act (S.1511), here are a few initiatives that are aimed at supporting first responders- whether it is buying their first home or taking care of their mental well-being.
First Responder Home Loan Program
Just like many other Americans, owning a home remains an important dream for many First Responders. Yet, many of them say their homeowning dreams are crushed by the continuously rising home prices. Using the latest Case-Shiller index for reference, year on year home prices have increased a whopping 20 percent. Meanwhile, first responders including police officers and firefighters in Ohio have only seen a 3.6 percent annual salary hike. In fact, many first responders say they are underpaid and are continuously seeking affordable options for housing. Now, the recently tabled HELPer Act is aiming to remove some of those obstacles for those on the frontline by eliminating the downpayment requirement and offering 100 percent financing on home purchases for first responders.
The HELPer Act will also remove monthly insurance premium payments for those on the front line. Therefore, those who cannot afford the typical 20 percent downpayment will no longer face the additional cost of monthly mortgage insurance premiums. Similar to the VA loan program which provides 100 percent financing to VA members and their families, the HELPer Act provides a pathway to homeownership for many first responders. For those in the medical field who are having trouble with their mortgage due to the pandemic or financial hardship, there is help for nurses with mortgages in the form of debt consolidation and loan refinancing. Other existing programs include the Neighbour Next Door Act and Freddie Mac Borrow Smart Mortgage program.
Mental Health First Aid’s Program For First Responders
Another issue on the agenda for first responders this year is their mental health, including First Responder Trauma. With this in mind, The COPS Counselling Act was recently signed into law by President Biden to provide mental health support for law enforcement officials. It has been highly publicized that first responders are facing a heightened mental toll, particularly now and more needs to be done to support their mental wellbeing. Alongside the newly minted COPS Counselling Act, there is AT&T’s Health and Wellness Program which was initiated after 9/11. Health and wellness resources provided include access to an animal-assisted therapy program and a program that connects first responders on the job who have experienced traumatic events with those living with PTSD.
Protecting America’s First Responders Act
On October 27, The PAFRA Bill passed The House and became law across the country. The bill focuses on helping those injured in the line of duty, including those who have become permanently disabled. Included in the PAFRA Bill are additional payments and benefits for those on the front line who are affected. One of the most cited changes in the protection of disability and death benefits for families of first responders, helping them achieve financial balance in times of need.
While first responders still face uphill challenges, it is enheartening to see them take the priority seat for the country’s administration and non-profits. Although local and state governments continue to have to make difficult budget cuts, this momentum and commitment to those on the front line must continue. After all, they have certainly earned it.