A measure designed to provide first responders with benefits if they contract COVID-19 and become disabled or die from the virus advanced in Washington.
On May 27, the House passed the Public Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act, which would make COVID-19 a presumed line-of-duty injury under the Public Safety Officer Benefit (PSBO) program, ensuring that first responders and their families are eligible for compensation.
The legislation was introduced last month by Rep. Bill Pascrell, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (NY) and Rep. Max Rose (NY).
Protecting the Protectors
In a statement, Pascrell praised the bill’s passage, calling it “the latest in our efforts to protect those who protect us.”
“We have lost too many first responders to this crisis,” he said. “Providing our heroes and their families with peace of mind and the benefits they deserve is the absolute least we must do.”
Since the onset of the pandemic, Pascrell has been pushing for increased funding for police, firefighters and EMTs on the frontlines.
Senate Action Needed
Under the bill, the families of two North Jersey first responders who lost theirs lives due to COVID-19, Paterson Police Officer Frank Scorpo and Passaic Firefighter Israel Tolentino, would automatically qualify for benefits, Pascrell said.
Pascrell called for the Senate’s support on the bill.
“While we were able to include language from this bill in the House’s landmark HEROES Act last week, that legislative package remains held up in the Senate. So today we are passing this legislation again to make crystal clear the importance of doing right by our first responders. This policy must become law as soon as possible,” he said.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a co-sponsor of the bill, joined Pascrell in urging Senate to pass the legislation.
In a May 27 statement, Gottheimer said, “In North Jersey—one of the hardest hit areas in our entire country—our brave law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, and other first responders are our heroes, putting their own health on the line to keep our community safe and protected during the pandemic.”
The bill, he said, “ensures these extraordinary men and women and their families get the benefits they deserve for their service.”
The Public Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act of 2020 would:
- Establish that a diagnosis for COVID-19 will be presumed to constitute a personal injury in the line of duty for the purposes of eligibility for the PSOB program, unless the officer was not on duty in the relevant time period.
- Establish the COVID-19-related disability standard be based on whether a PSOB claimant is permanently prevented from performing any gainful work as a public safety officer on account of their COVID-19 diagnosis.
- Ensure that officers who were injured or disabled in the line of duty in relation to the attacks of September 11, 2001, and whose injuries—in combination with a line of duty COVID-19 illness—rendered them disabled or caused their death will receive benefits under the PSOB program.
Currently, public safety officers or their families are eligible to receive benefits under the PSOB program, administered by the Department of Justice, upon death or disability caused by injury or illness sustained in the line of duty.
The Public Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act of 2020 would expand the program to include COVID-19 as an eligible personal injury.
In the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Congress passed a bill into law to amend the PSOB to ensure those killed and injured on 9/11 were immediately eligible for the program.