WASHINGTON, D.C. – As New Jersey and New York’s first responders face perils on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, New Jersey Senators Cory Booker (D) and Bob Menendez (D), along with New York Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Chuck Schumer (D) today introduced a bipartisan bill to ensure families of public safety officers lost to COVID-19 can quickly access survivor benefits.
The Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act (SAFR) 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 led by Senators Booker and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and cosponsored by Sens. Cruz (R-TX), Feinstein (D-CA), Tillis (R-N.C.), Coons (D-DE), Daines (R-MT), Scott (R-FL), Loeffler (R-GA), and Blumenthal (D-CT).
“Our first responders in New Jersey and across the country risk their lives each day to protect us from the threat of COVID-19, and many have already made the ultimate sacrifice,” Senator Booker said. “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.”
“Our public safety officers—police, fire and EMS—are on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19. They are leaving the safety of their homes and the comfort of their families each day to face an invisible enemy,” Senator Menendez said. “Our first responders need to know that we have their backs just as they have ours. Truly standing up for our heroes means ensuring that they and their families are taken care of for putting themselves on the line to help us all.”
“During the coronavirus pandemic, our public safety officers are risking their health to keep us safe. They are serving on the frontlines of this crisis, they are getting sick, and some are unfortunately dying,” Senator Gillibrand said. “While nothing will make these officers’ families whole again, the Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act will establish a clear framework for benefits claims and ensure their families get the resources they need. These front line heroes have stepped up for our country when we needed them, now our country needs to step up for them.”
“Our brave first responders have once again answered the call during this pandemic. We know that some who do so will contract the Coronavirus, and, sadly, some will make the ultimate sacrifice for their communities,” Senator Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said. “The least we can do to repay those who have given and will give so much for us is to provide the families of those fallen heroes a federal death benefit, in the same way that we would for non-COVID-related line of duty deaths.”
“Thank You to Senators Booker, Menendez, Gillibrand, and Schumer for staying in front of this much needed addition to the PSOB benefit,” Ed Donnelly, President of the NJ Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, said. “Our NJ 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.”
“The New Jersey law enforcement family has now lost more officers to the coronavirus in two short months than we did for line of duty deaths in all of 2019,” Pat Colligan, President of the NJ State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said. “The virus continues to attack first responders today but this legislation offers protection for our families under the PSOB that they justly deserve. We are grateful to Senators Booker, Menendez, Gillibrand, Grassley and others for showing compassion, respect and appreciation for the sacrifice of the law enforcement community at this difficult time.”
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.
While there is no central database in New Jersey collecting precise information on the number of first responders who have died due to COVID-19, based upon information compiled by the EMS task-force as well as local news reports, 20 first responders in New Jersey have died due to COVID-19. The families of those 20 individuals would now be eligible for public safety officer benefits under this bill, as well as any other first responders who may pass this year or next year because of the virus.
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.
Safeguarding America’s First Responders (SAFR) Act:Text