President Donald Trump today signed into law 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 with the House of Representatives following suit in July. 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.
“The ongoing pandemic has increased the risk that America’s police officers and first responders face every day to keep our communities safe and healthy. Sadly, some have contracted COVID-19 while on the job and succumbed to the virus. 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. This bill ensures that families of fallen public safety officers and first responders can quickly access the aid they’ve been promised,” Grassley said.
“While this pandemic has changed daily life for so many Americans, our brave first responders have continued to put their lives on the line to protect our communities – and they’ve done so at significantly increased risk to themselves and to their families. We have lost far too many first responders to COVID-19, and their families will now without question receive the federal benefits they deserve in their time of unimaginable loss. Our first responders never hesitate to answer the call, and we must always answer theirs,” Booker 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: