New Jersey’s Senate contingent partnered with their New York counterparts to introduce legislation giving the families of first responders lost to COVID-19 access to public service.
Sens. Cory Booker, Bob Menendez, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Chuck Schumer put forward the Safeguarding America’s First Responders (SAFR) Act May 5.
“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,” said Sen. Booker.
The SAFR Act would adjust the Public Safety Officers Benefits Program, currently administered by the Justice Department. The program provides death benefits to survivors of police officers and first responders who die in the line of duty or due to a work-related event.
Utilizing an Existing Justice Department Program
“Our public safety officers—police, fire and EMS—are on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19,” said Menendez. “They are leaving the safety of their homes and the comfort of their families each day to face an invisible enemy.”
As currently constituted, the program requires evidence that a link exists between a death caused infectious disease and a work-related activity. The senators noted under normal circumstances this was typically easily identified, but was complicated during the pandemic.
To address the challenge, the law would classify any COVID-19 infections contracted within 45 days of an officer’s last shift as being contracted while in the line of duty.
Bipartisan, Industry Support
Led by Sen. Booker and Sen. Chuck Grassley, the bill has bipartisan support, with Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Thom Tillis, Sen. Chris Coons, Sen. Steve Daines, Sen. Rick Scott, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
Additionally, the legislation was 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.
Ed Donnelly, President of the NJ Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, thanked the senators for their efforts.
“Our New Jersey Firefighters and EMT’s are fighting every day to keep our citizens safe. Thanks to you and your colleagues for fighting in the halls of Congress for us,” he said.