House Bill Makes First Responders who Contracted COVID-19 Eligible for Federal Benefits

The House of Representatives recently passed the Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act (SAFR) of 2020, making public safety officers who contract COVID-19 in the line of duty eligible for benefits for their families should they become disabled or die from the virus.

“America has lost too many first responders to COVID-19 and today’s approval can provide these heroes and their families with the peace of mind and benefits they deserve,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell, co-chair of the Congressional Law Enforcement Caucus and the Fire Services Caucus. 

“While that critical plan to support Americans and fight the pandemic remains held up in the Senate, approving this provision today is welcome news,” said Pascrell in a press statement July 20. “The bill must now be signed and enacted by the Justice Department with the urgency our first responders deserve.”

Line of Duty Disability

Currently, public safety officers or their families are eligible to receive benefits under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit (PSOB) program, administered by the U.S. Department of Justice, upon death or disability caused by injury or illness sustained in the line of duty. The legislation passed would expand the program to include COVID-19 as an eligible personal injury. 

The program requires evidence linking deaths or disabilities 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 establishes 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 enables families of officers and first responders lost or disabled while fighting the pandemic don’t face unnecessary barriers to benefits they’ve already been promised.

Booker Bill

Sen. Cory Booker, co-sponsor of the SAFR bill in the Senate along with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), said once signed into law, the bill will improve timely access to financial assistance for families of public safety officers lost to COVID-19.

“First responders have always put their lives and their health on the line to protect their communities, but this pandemic has amplified the risks posed to them and their families, with many first responders in New Jersey and across the country making the ultimate sacrifice,” said Booker. 

“The passage of our bill today in the House of Representatives brings us one step closer to making urgently needed changes to the program that supports the families of fallen first responders to reflect the unique threat of COVID-19.”

Daily Data

Gov. Phil Murphy in announcing the new data on July 21 on his twitter account noted the state continues to work on the issue related to reporting from one of its private labs. While there are some reports being received, there is still a backlog waiting to be processed.

As of July 21, the cumulative number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey reached 177,256 with 424 new cases and 22 new deaths, bringing that total to 13,763. The state probable death count remained at 1,974, bringing the overall total to 15,715.

Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 1,840, followed by Bergen at 1,764, Hudson with 1,315, Passaic at 1,082, Morris at 670, Sussex at 158 and Warren with 155.

In regards to probable deaths, Bergen has 268, Essex has 255, Hudson has 185, Passaic 158, Morris 157, Sussex has 37 and Warren has 17.

State Testing 

Officials reported 833 patients are hospitalized. The north tier had 375 patients hospitalized, the central 224 and the south 234.

Of those hospitalized, 169 are in intensive care units and 79 on ventilators, while 48 patients were discharged. As for the rate of transmission, it remained unchanged from the day before at 0.90. 

Bergen Tops County Count

Bergen has the most cumulative cases in the state with 20,052, followed by Hudson at 19,267, Essex at 19,153, Passaic at 17,181, Middlesex at 17,155, Union at 16,515, Ocean at 9,988, Monmouth at 9,683, Camden at 7,867, Mercer at 7,839, Morris at 6,990, Burlington at 5,478, Somerset at 5,072, Atlantic at 3,148, Cumberland at 3,088, Gloucester at 2,855, Warren at 1,286, Sussex at 1,253, Hunterdon at 1,101, Salem at 837 and Cape May at 760.

Another 688 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.

Demographic Breakdown

The racial breakdown of the record deaths was 54% White, 20% Hispanic, 18% Black, 6% Asian and 2% another race. Murphy has noted the rates in the black and Hispanic communities are running about 50% more than their population in the state. 

In regards to the underlying disease of those who have passed, 56% had cardiovascular disease, 45% diabetes, 31% other chronic diseases, 18% neurological conditions, 17% lung diseases, 15% chronic renal disease, 10% cancer and 14% other. Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli has stated most cases have multiple underlying conditions which would push the percentage of 100%.

A census of ages for confirmed deaths shows 47% of deaths are of those 80 year old and up, 33% in the range of 65-80, 16% between 50-65 and 5% under the age of 49. 

Long-term Care Facilities

Health officials noted currently 390 long-term care facilities are reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 29,078 of the cases, broken down between 19,154 residents and 9,924 staff. 

Cumulatively, 580 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 24,538 residents and 12,709 staff, for a total of 37,247cases. 

The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 6,839 on July 21. The facilities are reporting to the state 6,657 residents deaths and 119 staff deaths. 

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