The children of first responders killed in the line of duty will be automatically eligible for the maximum amount of education funding from the federal Pell Grant, following the passage of a bill authored by U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-8, in Middletown. The Children of Fallen Heroes Scholarship Act, introduced by Fitzpatrick and Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-13, in Northeast Philadelphia, was included in the omnibus spending package signed into law by President Donald Trump last week.

“It’s natural human instinct to run away from danger,” Fitzpatrick said. “These are women and men that do the opposite, they run toward danger. Oftentimes, at great personal sacrifice to themselves. They put themselves in physical danger, they put their mental and psychological health on the line, to serve a cause bigger than themselves.”

Fitzpatrick made his remarks Thursday morning at a news conference at the Langhorne-Middletown Fire Co. station on Maple Avenue in Langhorne. He was joined by state Rep. Frank Farry, R-142, Langhorne, who also serves as chief for the fire company, and police officers from local departments. Introducing Fitzpatrick Thursday morning, Farry said passage of the Children of Fallen Heroes Act fulfills one of the most basic duties for lawmakers.

“It’s very important as a government, whether at the state level or federal level, that we take care of our first responders,” Farry said. “Especially when they make the ultimate sacrifice. If we’re not taking care of our first responders who are serving us, then we are failing them as a nation and commonwealth.”

Pell Grants are awarded based on information submitted through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid(FAFSA), an application completed through the Department of Education which determines the total amount of federal financial aid available to students. The amount of money awarded from the Pell Grant is determined by the amount of the expected family contribution, or how much of the cost the student can chip in. The lower the expected family contribution, based on salary information provided in the FAFSA, the higher the amount awarded, up to the full amount of the annual grant. The ceiling for the full Pell Grant award in the 2017-18 school year is $5,920.

Under the Children of Fallen Heroes Scholarship Act, children of first responders killed in the line of duty will have their expected family contribution set automatically to zero dollars. This makes them eligible for the full Pell Grant award, an amount that is tied to the U.S. inflation rate. The eligibility is valid for children younger than 24 years old or enrolled at an institute of higher education at the time of the parent’s death. The law includes children of police officers, firefighters, fire police, EMT/EMS and paramedics. Families of military members killed in the line of duty receive a similar benefit, Fitzpatrick said.

“This bipartisan legislation will ease the financial burden on the families of our community’s fallen heroes,” Fitzpatrick said. “This has been a top priority of mine to support our first responders and their families, and I’m thrilled that we’ve gotten this bill across the finish line for them.”

Washington lawmakers have kicked around a bill benefiting children of fallen first responders for nearly 10 years, long enough to have some officers doubting it would ever pass.

“You hear about laws that are pending, this one’s tied up in this committee, this one’s tied up in that committee,” said Bob Bray Jr., president of the Bucks County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 53. “This is one of those you hear about every once in a while to the point it feels like it’s never going to happen. All of a sudden, we start getting word on it, that it’s coming up.”

The first version of the bill was introduced by former Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-8, in 2009 as the Officer Daniel Faulkner Children of Fallen Heroes Scholarship Act, with a companion senate bill introduced by Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. Casey and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., introduced a companion bill shortly after Fitzpatrick in 2017, but both bills were stuck in committee. Fitzpatrick said Speaker of the House Paul Ryan asked about his top priorities for the spending bill, and Fitzpatrick mentioned the Children of Fallen Heroes Scholarship Act.