Legislation will provide line-of-duty benefits to families of officers who contract the virus
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09) praised House passage of his Public Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act (H.R. 6509), which will ensure that public safety officers who contract COVID-19 in the line of duty are eligible for benefits for their families should they become disabled or die from the virus. Pascrell introduced the legislation last month with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10) and Rep. Max Rose (D-NY-11).
“We have lost too many first responders to this crisis. Today’s passage of our bill is but the latest in our efforts to protect those who protect us. Providing our heroes and their families with peace of mind and the benefits they deserve is the absolute least we must do,” said Rep. Pascrell, co-chair of the Congressional Law Enforcement Caucus and the Fire Services Caucus. “I want to thank Chairman Jerry Nadler and Congressman Max Rose for their persistence and leadership on this issue. While we were able to include language from this bill in the House’s landmark HEROES Act last week, that legislative package remains held up in the Senate. So today we are passing this legislation again to make crystal clear the importance of doing right by our first responders. I want to especially thank Senators Cory Booker and Chuck Grassley for their work to pass this vital change in the upper chamber. This policy must become law as soon as possible.”
The Public Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act was included in the HEROES Act to provide a Public Safety Officer Benefits (PSOB) death and disability presumption for officers who contract COVID-19. Rep. Pascrell joined Chairman Nadler and Rep. Rose in introducing this legislation in April, and advocated for its inclusion in this bill to ensure any officer who falls or becomes disabled by COVID-19 receives federal benefits. The families of Paterson Police Officer Frank Scorpo and Passaic Firefighter Israel Tolentino would automatically qualify for benefits under this bill.
Rep. Pascrell has been leading this effort since early April when he led a letter of 160 House members calling for the line of duty presumption to be extended.
The Public Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act of 2020 would:
- Establish that a diagnosis for COVID-19 will be presumed to constitute a personal injury in the line of duty for the purposes of eligibility for the Public Safety Officer Benefit program, unless the officer was not on duty in the relevant time period.
- Establish the COVID-19-related disability standard be based on whether a PSOB claimant is permanently prevented from performing any gainful work as a public safety officer on account of their COVID-19 diagnosis.
- Ensure that officers who were injured or disabled in the line of duty in relation to the attacks of September 11, 2001, and whose injuries – in combination with a line of duty COVID-19 illness – rendered them disabled or caused their death, will receive benefits under the PSOB program.
Currently, public safety officers or their families are eligible to receive benefits under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit program, administered by the U.S. Department of Justice, upon death or disability caused by injury or illness sustained in the line of duty. The Public Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act of 2020 would expand the program to include COVID-19 as an eligible personal injury. In the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Congress passed into law a bill to amend the PSOB to ensure those killed and injured on 9/11 were immediately eligible for the program.
A section by section of the legislation is available here.
Rep. Pascrell has worked tirelessly to provide support for public safety officers before a during this crisis. His letter in early April sparked calls for this change to be made. The two North Jersey first responders who lost their lives due to COVID-19 would automatically qualify for death benefits if Pascrell’s request is granted. Pascrell is also leading the way on reforms for the PSOB program with the Protecting America’s First Responders Act (H.R. 2812).