Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks on the Senate floor on March 20, 2020. (Screen shot from video provided by Grassley’s office)
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is co-sponsoring legislation to help provide disability benefits for the families of first responders who contract COVID-19.
Grassley says the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program, first enacted in 1976, currently requires evidence linking deaths from infectious diseases to work-related exposure.
“To erase shadows of doubt about whether first responders who contract COVID-19 during this pandemic are eligible for federal survivor and disability benefits, I introduced bipartisan legislation called the Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act,” Grassley said. “It would establish a temporary presumption that COVID-19 infections would be considered contracted while on duty if diagnosed within 45 days of the officer’s last shift.”
The Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program offers death and education benefits to the survivors of public safety officers who have died. Administered by the U.S. Department of Justice, benefits include a one-time benefit for survivors in cases where the death was the direct result of injury in the line of duty.
In 1990, Congress expanded the program to include benefits for disability resulting from line-of-duty catastrophic injury that permanently prevents an officer from continuing to work. Families may also qualify for college tuition expenses if the first responder is a parent who dies or is permanently disabled in the line of duty.
In recent years, the program has been beset by delays in claims processing, which has led to a backlog of claims. In 2016, Grassley convened a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the topic to shed light on the effect of delayed claims processing. Last year, Grassley followed up with the Justice Department to find out why some claims still were being delayed or denied, and introduced bipartisan legislation to address inconsistencies in the adjudication of disability claims. That bill passed unanimously in the Senate last spring, but awaits action in the House of Representatives.
The new pandemic-related legislation is cosponsored by a bipartisan coalition including Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
“Congress approved this federal benefit to give our nation’s first responders peace of mind when they go into harm’s way to protect the public,” Grassley said. “America’s first responders are on the front lines in the fight against the pandemic, and sadly, some have already contracted the disease and died while working to keep our communities healthy and safe. Their loss is not only emotionally devastating, but it also means lost wages in an economically challenging time … This bipartisan bill recognizes the unique challenges posed by this pandemic and better ensures that public safety officers’ families can quickly access the financial help they’ve been promised.”
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