House passes bill to ensure COVID-19 death, disability benefits for first responders

The bill, which creates a presumption that COVID-19 was contracted in the line of duty, is headed to the president's desk


Sabrina Eaton
The Plain Dealer, Cleveland

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday adopted legislation sponsored by Bainbridge Township GOP Rep. Dave Joyce to ensure that families of first responders who die from or are disabled by the coronavirus get Public Safety Officers Benefit program payments for firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians who are killed or disabled in the line of duty.

The bill, cosponsored by Rocky River GOP Rep. Anthony Gonzalez and Warrensville Heights Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge, passed on a noncontroversial voice vote. It passed the U.S. Senate on May 14, so it will become law after President Donald Trump signs it. Their “Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act” creates a presumption that if a first responder is diagnosed with the coronavirus within 45 days of their last day on the job, the Department of Justice will treat it as a line of duty incident and provide the payments.

A ambulance that has been wrapped in plastic sheeting for transporting COVID-19 patients is pictured inside the Upper Merion Fire and EMS station in King of Prussia, Pa. The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday adopted legislation to ensure that families of first responders who are disabled or die from the virus get Public Safety Officers Benefit program payments. (Photo/Tim Tai, The Plain Dealer)
A ambulance that has been wrapped in plastic sheeting for transporting COVID-19 patients is pictured inside the Upper Merion Fire and EMS station in King of Prussia, Pa. The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday adopted legislation to ensure that families of first responders who are disabled or die from the virus get Public Safety Officers Benefit program payments. (Photo/Tim Tai, The Plain Dealer)

“This pandemic has underscored the fact that our first responders and public safety officers are our first line of defense in our communities when disaster strikes,” said a statement from Joyce. “Each and every day these brave men and women continue to serve and protect our communities despite the threat that COVID-19 poses.”

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who introduced the measure in the U.S. Senate, said the law was needed to keep the survivors of first responders who die from COVID-19 from having to prove their loved one contracted it on the job.

“First responders always answer the calls to action, selflessly placing others before themselves,” Grassley said in a Senate floor speech. “In recognition of the many sacrifices they make, Congress established the Public Safety Officers Benefit program in 1976. This program provides first responders with a one-time payment if they die or are totally disabled on duty.

“Let me be clear, nothing can ever put back together a family who has lost a loved one, but the PSOB program provides some economic relief to grieving families and peace of mind to the first responders themselves in knowing that their families won’t be left destitute if tragedy were to befall them ... The last thing a grieving family needs to be worried about after the loss of a loved one is whether or not they’ll be able to successfully prove that their loved one contracted COVID on duty.”

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©2020 The Plain Dealer, Cleveland

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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