WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) issued the below statement regarding the passage of the Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act (SAFR) by the U.S. House of Representatives this afternoon. Sens. Booker and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) are lead authors of the bill in the U.S. Senate, which the chamber passed unanimously in May. Once signed into law, the bill will improve timely access to financial assistance for families of public safety officers lost to COVID-19 by clarifying the certification requirements for survivor benefits under the Public Safety Officers Benefits Program to account for the unique challenges presented by the pandemic.
“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.
“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.
“Our bill will give first responders comfort knowing that their families will be taken care of should something happen to them, and ensure that the families of those heroes who have already sacrificed their lives in service of their communities during this crisis will receive the benefits they rightfully deserve. I encourage the President to act quickly to sign this bill into law.”
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 a result of a work-related event. It also provides disability benefits to those who are permanently disabled due to their work. 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 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 or disabled while fighting the pandemic don’t face unnecessary barriers to benefits they’ve already been promised.