Focus on New Laws: Hometown Heroes Assistance Program Established and Funded

September 7, 2021

The program for firefighters will provide financial assistance to those diagnosed with job-related illnesses and trauma and create resources to help reduce job-related health risks.

The omnibus judiciary and public safety finance and policy bill passed during the June special session, First Special Session Chapter 11, creates a new section of law that establishes and funds and an initiative called the Hometown Heroes Assistance Program. The program, which became effective July 1, 2021, will receive an annual appropriation of $4 million.

The new law, Minnesota Statutes, section 299A.477, was pushed by fire service representatives and is aimed at providing financial assistance to firefighters who are diagnosed with cancer or heart disease, developing a firefighter trauma counseling program, and developing training and educational materials to help firefighters reduce job-related health risks.

Department of Public Safety directed to award grant to MnFIRE

The law directs the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to award a grant to the Minnesota Firefighter Initiative (also known as MnFIRE) to administer the Hometown Heroes Assistance Program for Minnesota firefighters. MnFIRE, a nonprofit organization established in 2016, is focused on providing tools, training, and support to firefighters to help protect their health. It emphasizes education, prevention, and treatment related to cardiac health, emotional trauma, and cancer.

MnFIRE must use the grant money to:

  • Provide a one-time critical illness monetary support payment of up to $20,000 to each firefighter who is diagnosed with cancer or heart disease and who applies for the payment;
  • Develop a psychotherapy program customized to address emotional trauma experienced by firefighters and to offer all firefighters in the state up to five psychotherapy sessions per year under the customized program, provided by mental health professionals;
  • Offer additional psychotherapy sessions to firefighters who need them; and
  • Develop, annually update, and annually provide to all firefighters in the state at least two hours of training on cancer, heart disease, and emotional trauma as causes of illness and death for firefighters.

The DPS commissioner is authorized to accept funds from non-state sources to fund the Hometown Heroes Assistance Program.

All active firefighters eligible

The law defines “firefighter” as “a volunteer, paid on-call, part-time, or career firefighter serving a general population within the boundaries of the state.” This definition has the impact of making all active firefighters in the state eligible for benefits provided by the Hometown Heroes Assistance Program.

Firefighters should work directly with MnFIRE to get more details on these programs as they become available.

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