The U.S. House of Representatives today unanimously passed bipartisan legislation led by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to improve timely access to financial assistance for families of public safety officers lost to COVID-19. The Senate unanimously passed the Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act (SAFR) in May. The legislation clarifies certification requirements for survivor benefits under the Public Safety Officers Benefits Program to account for the unique challenges presented by the current coronavirus pandemic. It must now be signed by President Trump to become law.
“Law enforcement and first responders face inherent dangers in their jobs each day. The ongoing pandemic has only added to the level of risk they take to promote health, safety and security in our communities. Losing a first responder in the line of duty is always devastating. Families of those lost to COVID-19 shouldn’t face an uphill struggle to access financial support promised to them. With the House’s unanimous vote today, our bill to help these families is one step closer to becoming law,” Grassley said.
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.
The legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Cruz (R-Texas), Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tillis (R-N.C.), Coons (D-Del.), Daines (R-Mont.), Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Scott (R-Fla.), Menendez (D-N.J.), Loeffler (R-Ga.), Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Moran (R-Kan.), Schumer (D-N.Y.), Collins (R-Maine), Tester (D-Mont.), Capito (R-W.V.), Hassan (D-N.H.), Cramer (R-N.D.), Shaheen (D-N.H.), McSally (R-Ariz.), Peters (D-Mich.) and Stabenow (D-Mich.). It’s 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, the National Association of School Resource Officers, the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the California Coalition of Law Enforcement Associations. The legislation also received support from 52 state Attorneys General.
Safeguarding America’s First Responders (SAFR) Act: