WASHINGTON. DC – U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) on Wednesday voted to pass the Public Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act of 2020. The bill, which he cosponsored, would expand an existing federal program to ensure that public safety officers who contract COVID-19 in the line of duty are eligible for benefits should they become disabled or die from the virus.
The bill, which passed the House, would also ensure that 9/11 first responders who may have developed a line of duty COVID-19 illness are eligible for benefits, as they are more likely to have other co-occurring disorders as a result of their service in the aftermath of 9/11, which could complicate a COVID-19 diagnosis.
“In North Jersey — one of the hardest hit areas in our entire country — our brave law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, and other first responders are our heroes, putting their own health on the line to keep our community safe and protected during the pandemic,” said Gottheimer, a member of the Congressional Law Enforcement Caucus and the Congressional Fire Services Caucus. “This legislation that I cosponsored and that passed the House, ensures these extraordinary men and women and their families get the benefits they deserve for their service on the front lines of this pandemic. Thanks to the vital work of these heroes, we will get through this crisis, together. I urge the Senate to swiftly pass this critical legislation to help get the backs of all of our first responders.”
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 (PSOB) 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 (PSOB) program, administered by the Department of Justice, upon death or disability caused by injury or illness sustained in the line of duty, Gottheimer said.
The Public Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act of 2020 would expand the program to include COVID-19 as an eligible personal injury, Gottheimer said.
In the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Congress passed a bill into law to amend the PSOB to ensure those killed and injured on 9/11 were immediately eligible for the program, Gottheimer said.
There are nearly 7,000 9/11 survivors and first responders living in New Jersey, Gottheimer said.
Gottheimer was an original cosponsor of bipartisan legislation signed into law by the President earlier this Congress — the Never Forget the Heroes Act — to permanently authorize the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and provide long-overdue support to cover 9/11 survivors’ and first responders’ injuries, lost earnings, benefits, and out-of-pocket medical expenses. The bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, Co-Chaired by Gottheimer, endorsed the bill earlier in 2019 and called for swift floor passage with bipartisan support.