League Advocates for Legislation to Address Public Safety Duty Disabilities

January 17, 2023

Members are encouraged to use the League’s updated Public Safety PTSD Duty Disability Advocacy Toolkit to learn more about the issue and how to communicate key information to legislators.

Note: There is updated information on this topic. Read the latest article.

Despite the best efforts of such stakeholders as the League, the Association of Minnesota Counties, the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, and the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, a bipartisan bill to help address troubling trends around public safety duty disabilities related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) did not become law in 2022.

As a result, the human and financial tolls of these trends have continued, and the high rate of duty disability retirements is contributing to the destabilization of the Public Employees Retirement Association Police and Fire (PERA-P&F) Plan.

Once again in 2023, the League will advocate for the state to partner with employers and public safety personnel to optimize first-responder wellness and curb the number of employees leaving the profession with a permanent disability. The League will engage stakeholders in the legislative arena to work collectively to advance measures that recognize the risks of public safety jobs, provide critical support for first responders, and protect the benefits that exist to compensate injured employees.

The League’s Public Safety PTSD Duty Disability Advocacy Toolkit has been updated and members are encouraged to use the materials to learn more about the issue and how to communicate key information to legislators. The toolkit also contains a model resolution for consideration by city councils.

Troubling trends in PERA

According to the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), the number of public safety duty disability claims began to consistently climb in 2019. Following are the number of applications PERA has received in recent years:

  • 2019: 118 applications.
  • 2020: 241 applications.
  • 2021: 307 applications.
  • 2022: 257 applications.

More than 80% of the applications are related to PTSD. While the perception may be that claims are coming only from the state’s largest cities, 39% of the claims are from outside Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The bulk (95%) of the applications are from law-enforcement employees, although law enforcement makes up only 80% of the PERA-P&F Plan, with firefighters making up 20%. Fewer than 1% of applications are denied by PERA, which must follow eligibility criteria set by state law.

When an employee becomes eligible for a PERA-P&F duty disability, the employee also becomes eligible for continued health insurance under Minnesota Statutes, sections 299A.465. The statute, known as the Public Safety Officer Benefit (PSOB), provides that the employer at the time of injury is responsible for the continued payment of the employer’s contribution for coverage of the officer or firefighter — and in some cases, the employee’s dependents — until the employee reaches age 65.

When the PSOB law was enacted, the state was fully reimbursing employers for the cost of complying with the continued health insurance mandate. In the early 2000s, the Legislature stopped fully funding the reimbursement account and passed an amendment to the statute that said employers would only be reimbursed on a prorated basis. As of the end of fiscal year 2021, the state was only reimbursing $1.367 million of the $10.691 million requested by employers.

Increased urgency: PERA-P&F funding problem

Since the conclusion of the 2022 legislative session, a new concern has emerged. According to PERA, the funding ratio in the PERA-P&F Plan has dropped precipitously in one year, and the number of duty disabilities is a contributing factor along with volatile investment returns. The plan was funded at 106% on June 30, 2021, and saw a negative 6.4% return as of June 30, 2022.

PERA reports the increased disability rates are likely to add about 4% of payroll to current cost estimates, which are based on the total number of active employees remaining steady. These assumptions are now in question due to recruitment and retention challenges.

The plan is not in a good position to fund contribution decreases or benefit increases, which labor groups sought in 2022. The persistently high disability rates carry significant costs that may require higher contributions and/or limit the fund’s ability to provide higher cost-of-living adjustments for retirees.

Workers’ compensation trends

The workers’ compensation experience at the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) also has trended upward. It’s important to note when reviewing LMCIT’s experience that nine of Minnesota’s largest cities — including Minneapolis and St. Paul — are self-insured and do not rely on LMCIT for workers’ compensation coverage.

Since 2013, 380 PTSD claims had been received through 2022. Through 2020, LMCIT made indemnity or medical payments on more than 43% of those claims. LMCIT has paid out $23.9 million, the vast majority for medical and indemnity costs. Incurred costs, which include amounts paid, plus amounts set aside for future payments, total more than $46.8 million. PTSD is now the single largest projected source of workers’ compensation claims across all job classifications covered by LMCIT. The average age of individuals making PTSD workers’ compensation claims is 42.

What to expect in 2023

The League believes there is a role for the state in implementing policies and funding to increase mental injury prevention and treatment initiatives so first responders will stay healthy and on the job, and those that become injured can recover from mental injuries and return to work.

The League is working with key legislators to advance legislation similar to what was discussed in 2022. The measure included full state funding for the PSOB, with reimbursement provided on the condition the employer has implemented mental injury preventive measures. It also required new pre-service training aimed at mental injury awareness and prevention.

The bill would have allowed injured employees to stay on the payroll for six to eight months while completing treatment for a mental injury, which would have reimbursed employers for the cost of keeping injured employees financially whole. The bill would have required treatment for an employee before the employee could become eligible for permanent duty disability benefits.

More information, including bill numbers, will be provided once the legislation is introduced.

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