The U.S. Senate unanimously cleared legislation authored 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 Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act (SAFR) 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 legislation, which was part of a package of law enforcement measures approved during National Police Week, 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.).
“(Thursday’s) vote sends a loud and clear message to America’s public safety officers: We appreciate your steadfast dedication in the most trying times and we’re here to help if the unthinkable happens. 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. The government already provides payments to families of officers or first responders who die or are permanently disabled from a work-related event. This bipartisan bill recognizes the unique challenges posed by this pandemic and better ensures that public safety officers’ families can quickly access financial help,” Grassley said.
“Our firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and other emergency services personnel risk their lives to keep us safe, and face significantly increased hazards during this pandemic,” Booker said. “A staggering number of public safety officers have already lost their lives to COVID-19, and we must make sure that their families are supported when they face unimaginable loss – and that’s exactly what this bill does. I am proud to have worked with Senator Grassley to write and quickly move this bipartisan legislation through the senate so no families are left behind, and so our brave first responders can go to work knowing that we have their back.”
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 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.
Safeguarding America’s First Responders (SAFR) Act: