SSR 82-4: SECTION 224 (42 U.S.C. 424) DISABILITY -- REDUCTION OF BENEFITS DUE TO RECEIPT OF WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION -- PAYMENTS UNDER THE VOLUNTEER FIREMEN'S BENEFIT LAW OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK

20 CFR 404.408

SSR 82-4

To assure protection against loss of earnings capacity, the Volunteer Firemen's Benefit Law (VFBL) of the State of New York provides payments to volunteer firemen who sustain injury in the line of duty. The VFBL benefits correspond to the maximum benefits paid under the State's workmen's compensation (WC) law. Also, applicable legislative history and court decisions indicate that the VFBL was intended as a particularized form of WC which takes into account the unique economic circumstances of volunteer firemen. Held, payments made under the VFBL of the State of New York are WC benefits subject to the offset provisions of section 224 of the Social Security Act (the Act).

A question has been raised regarding the treatment of payments made under the VFBL of the State of New York for purposes of the reduction provision under section 224 of the Act.

The VFBL was enacted to eliminate the confusion and lack of uniformity created by two overlapping New York State benefit programs; i.e., the General Municipal Law, which provides payments for "physical disability", and the Workmen's Compensation Law, which provides payments for "loss of earnings." The VFBL was enacted as a consolidation to provide payments for "loss of earnings capacity" and thus, takes into account the unique economic circumstances of volunteer firemen. In operation, VFBL benefits correspond to the maximum benefits paid under the State's WC law.

The legislative choice in making the VFBL a separate statute was of convenient and equitable administration rather than the creation of a new or novel benefit program. This was the understanding of the then Governor of New York when he signed the bill into law. His Memorandum of Approval states at the outset that "[t]his bill, and a number of companion bills extend the coverage and benefits of workmen's compensation and, in the interest of recipients, simplify procedures whenever possible." It was also the understanding of the Joint Legislative Committee on Fire Laws which noted that the administration of VFBL by the Workmen's Compensation Board, and the incorporation of WC administrative procedures would ensure uniform construction of VFBL.

In an early application of VFBL, Hausman v. Miller, 178 N.Y.S.2d 566 (S.Ct. 1958), the court found that the new law was intended to effectuate Article 1, ยง 18 of the New York Constitution, which authorized and describes WC. The court also stated that VFBL was "in effect, a 'baby-brother' Workmen's Compensation Law, designed to assure to the volunteer fireman protection against loss of earning power through injury sustained in line of duty, irrespective of fault."

A more recent case, Pollini v. Fuller Road Fire Department, 321 N.Y.S.2d 411 (S.Ct. 1971, aff'd. 331 N.Y.S.2d 7342, 357 N.Y.S.2d 502, reaches the same conclusion. There, the Court stated that "a reading of the VFBL impels the conclusion that it was the intent of the legislature in enacting this statute to follow the purport and objectives of the Workmen's Compensation Law."

Section 224 of the Act provides for the reduction of benefits based on disability on account of the receipt of WC. Although not denominated as such, VFBL is merely a particularized form of WC created by the New York legislature to accommodate the needs of persons who perform a vital but unpaid function. Therefore, payments made under the VFBL of the State of New York are WC for purposes of section 224(a) of the Act.


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