S.326 – Moving funds from SLED to reimburse costs of PTSD in firefighters and EMTs

S.326 is a resolution ordering the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to pay $250,000 out of their current budget to the SC Firefighters Association. This money would go to reimburse firefighters and emergency medical technicians who incur “mental injury” (an undefined term) for out-of-pocket costs that are not covered by insurance or workers’ compensation. The funds could also be used to “provide services” through the South Carolina Firefighters Assistance Support team.

A proviso in the previous three years’ budgets has required SLED to allocate 50% of funds provided for “First Responder PTSD Treatment” to the SC Firefighters Association for these exact purposes, and for the first two years lawmakers appropriated $500,000 to SLED for it. However, last year lawmakers did not include funding for “First Responder PTSD Treatment” in SLED’s budget, which meant that the Firefighters Association received no state funds under that proviso.

This joint resolution orders SLED to fund the association at the same level this year – out of its own budget.

There are several problems in this bill. In the first place, the wording is vague and does not include any transparency or accountability measures to ensure that the funds are spent appropriately. For instance, the bill does not even specify that the “out-of-pocket expenses” be directly related to obtaining treatment.

Secondly, mental injury coverage should not be addressed through budget proviso. First responders are not state employees and the state does not cover their benefits. If lawmakers wish to do so, that should be a separate bill and debated openly.

Finally, it is unclear why funding for firefighters was directed through the state’s law enforcement agency – and more particularly, why redirecting this year’s law enforcement resources in this manner would be considered good policy, especially given that lawmakers decided last year that it was not a funding priority.

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