As reported by NJ.com, legislation to automatically pay federal death benefits to first responders who die of the coronavirus unanimously passed the United States Senate yesterday. The measure removes the requirement that families of police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians have to prove that the first responder was infected while on the job as long as the person was diagnosed with COVID-19 within 45 days of his or her last shift.
“Our firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and other emergency services personnel risk their lives to keep us safe, and face significantly increased hazards during this pandemic,” said the bill’s Chief Democratic sponsor, U.S. Senator Cory Booker. “A staggering number of public safety officers have already lost their lives to COVID-19 and we must make sure that their families are supported when they face unimaginable loss-and that’s exactly what this bill does.” The bill attracted bipartisan support, with U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa as the lead Republican sponsor.
Under the legislation, death benefits would be paid if a first responder is diagnosed with the coronavirus within 45 days of his or her last shift. The benefits would go to public employees and volunteers, though lawmakers said they hoped to expand the program to also include those working for private companies. Similar legislation is being sponsored in the U.S. House by Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., D-9th Dist., and a benefits provision was included in the $3 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill expected to pass the chamber on Friday. Under the Public Safety Officers Benefits Program, the federal government pays death benefits to survivors of first responders who die in the line of duty or due to a work-related event. The Justice Department program also benefits to those permanently disabled due to their work.
Unfortunately, as we all know, New Jersey Public Safety Officers have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, about twenty (20) first responders in New Jersey have died due to COVID-19, although this number may be under reported. This bill provides a step in the right direction for all New Jersey Public Safety Officers in order to protect and provide for their families in the unfathomable event of a death due to COVID-19. Please continue to check this blog periodically to ascertain updates regarding this bill and its progress going forward. Stay Safe!