Bill would make COVID-19 a presumed line-of-duty injury, ensure benefits
The legislation would make first responders who become disabled or die from COVID-19 eligible for compensation under the Public Safety Officer Benefit program
By Laura French
WASHINGTON — New legislation introduced in Congress on Tuesday would make COVID-19 a presumed line-of-duty injury under the national Public Safety Officer Benefit (PSOB) program, ensuring that first responders who are disabled or die from the disease are eligible for compensation.
The Public Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act of 2020 was introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Congressional Law Enforcement Caucus Co-Chair Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) and Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.). The bill establishes that a diagnosis of COVID-19 will be presumed as a personal injury in the line of duty as long as the affected officer was on duty during the time period when they could have contracted the disease.
"Whether they are law enforcement officers, firefighters, or emergency medical technicians, public safety officers selflessly put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities," Nadler said in a statement. "I, along with Reps. Rose and Pascrell, introduced the Public Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act to ensure they receive the benefits they deserve, should they become disabled or perish from the virus. As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I will do everything in my power to ensure this becomes law."
The bill sets the COVID-19-related disability standard to be based on whether a claimant is permanently prevented from performing any gainful work as a public safety officer due to their COVID-19 diagnosis. The legislation would also ensure that 9/11 responders who become disabled or die due to 9/11-related injury in combination with COVID-19 will also receive PSOB benefits.
Nadler had previously introduced the bill that extended PSOB benefits to 9/11 responders in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Co-sponsor Pascrell led 160 bipartisan Congress members last week in demanding actions to assist first responders, including the extension of PSOB benefits to first responders affected by COVID-19. The group of lawmakers also called for hazard pay, waivers for SAFER grant recipients, the waiving of the federal firefighter and law enforcement officer overtime caps, the requirement of up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for quarantined personnel, increased access to PPE, and reimbursements for PPE, employee retention, overtime, backfill and sick pay.
"America's public safety officers are out on the frontlines of this pandemic keeping America up and running as best they can," Pascrell said in a statement. "They are risking their lives to protect all of our communities from this virus. Our heroes deserve the peace of mind that their loved ones will be eligible for support by the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program."
Read the full legislation below: