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Booker, Menendez Laud Signing of Legislation into Law Helping Families of First Responders Lost to COVID

Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez (both D-NJ) lauded the signing of legislation into law 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 bipartisan legislation, which was introduced by Booker and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), 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.

“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,” Senator Booker said. “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.”

“With this bill finally signed into law, we are saying loud and clear to our nation’s first responders: ‘We have your back!’” Senator Menendez said. “Our police officers, firefighters and EMS are on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19 and are putting themselves at greater risk of infection to protect us. This law makes sure that they and their families are taken care of if they fall ill or, God forbid, die from the this deadly virus. We owe them that peace of mind for their service and sacrifice.”

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 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,” Senator Grassley said.

“Our men and women have been keeping New Jersey residents safe throughout this pandemic,” said Eddie Donnelly, NJ Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association President. “The unfortunate reality is we will feel the effects of COVID long after a vaccine is found. Thank you Senator Booker for your steadfast work on the passage of the Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act – this is a security blanket for all First Responders.”

“It is encouraging to see legislation being signed into law to protect our firefighters and emergency medical personnel,” said Steve McConlogue, PFANJ President. “Our members continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic every day, and taking care of their families should they die, or become disabled, is the least we can do for them. The PFANJ has been on the frontlines of this pandemic from the very beginning, and will continue to be out there answering the call. Our sincere thanks goes to Senator Booker for sponsoring this important legislation, as well as the members of Congress for moving this bill.”

“We are proud to have worked closely with Senator Booker and representatives of the NJ EMS community to craft and support this critical legislation,” said Michael Bascom, NJ EMS Task Force State Leader. “This law provides a level of comfort to our first responders that their families will receive the support that they deserve for the sacrifice that they have made. We in New Jersey have lost more than a dozen EMS professionals, career and volunteer, throughout this pandemic. Each gave their lives in the service of others. Our concern for the financial wellbeing of their families has been address by this law. Our thoughts and prayers remain with them always.”

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.), 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.