Bipartisan Senate Bill Helps Families of First Responders Lost to COVID Access Public Service Benefits
May 05, 2020
WASHINGTON – As America’s first responders face perils on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, a bipartisan group of senators is working to ensure families of public safety officers lost to COVID-19 can quickly access survivor benefits. The Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act (SAFR), led by senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), clarifies the certification requirements for survivor benefits under the Public Safety Officers Benefits Program to account for the unique challenges presented by the pandemic. The legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Cruz (R-Texas), Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tillis (R-N.C.), Coons (D-Del.), Daines (R-Mont.), Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Scott (R-Fla.), Menendez (D-N.J.), Loeffler (R-Ga.), Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Moran (R-Kan.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“America’s first responders are on the front lines in the fight against the pandemic, and sadly, some have already contracted the disease and died while working to keep our communities healthy and safe. Their loss is not only emotionally devastating, but it also means lost wages in an economically challenging time. The government already provides payments to families of officers or first responders who die from a work-related event, but this bipartisan bill recognizes the unique challenges posed by this pandemic and better ensures that public safety officers’ families can quickly access the financial help they’ve been promised,” Grassley said.
“Our first responder risk their lives each day to protect us from the threat of COVID-19, and many have already made the ultimate sacrifice. There must be no question that our country will support their families when the unthinkable happens. Our bipartisan legislation will make certain that the families of these heroes get the benefits they are rightfully owed,” Booker said.
The Public Safety Officers Benefits Program, administered by the Justice Department, provides death benefits to survivors of police officers and first responders who perish in the line of duty or as the result of a work-related event. The program requires evidence linking deaths caused by an infectious disease to work-related activity. In many cases, the origin of an infection can be easily identified, but determining where and when someone contracts COVID-19 in the midst of a global pandemic presents a unique challenge.
SAFR works to overcome this challenge by establishing a temporary presumption that COVID-19 infections will be considered to be contracted while on duty if diagnosed within 45 days of an officer’s last shift. The legislation ensures that families of officers and first responders lost while fighting the pandemic don’t face unnecessary barriers to benefits they’ve already been promised. The legislation is endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, National Association of Police Officers, Federal Law Enforcement Officer Association, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the Sergeants Benevolent Association of New York and the National Association of School Resource Officers.
Grassley has long worked to improve the Public Safety Officers Benefits Program by expediting death payments and improving uniformity to disability benefits.
Safeguarding America’s First Responders (SAFR) Act: