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U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand announced the unanimous Senate passage of a bipartisan bill to ensure families of public safety officers lost to COVID-19 can quickly access survivor benefits. 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.
“Our brave first responders have once again answered the call of duty during this pandemic, risking their lives every day and some even making the ultimate sacrifice in service to our communities,” Senator Schumer said. “The least we can do to repay those who gave their lives to protect us is to provide the families of those heroes a federal death or total disability benefit, in the same way we would for non-COVID-related line of duty deaths or disabilities. I’m proud to have supported the Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act as the Senate passed this critical piece of legislation to support families of public safety officers lost to COVID-19.”
“Our public safety officers risk their health and their lives to keep us safe,” said Senator Gillibrand. “They are serving on the front lines, they are getting sick, and some unfortunately are dying. Our first responders have stepped up for our country, now we must step up for them. The Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act establishes a clear framework for benefits claims and will ensure that their families receive the resources they need. I am proud this bill passed the Senate, and now I will work my colleagues to ensure it passes the House and is signed into law.”
SAFR clarifies the certification requirements for survivor benefits under the Public Safety Officers Benefits Program to account for the unique challenges presented by the pandemic. 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 the result of a work-related event. The program requires evidence linking deaths 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 current challenges 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 while fighting the pandemic don’t face unnecessary barriers to benefits they’ve already been promised. The NYPD alone has lost more than 30 officers to this pandemic. The families of those individuals will now be eligible for public safety officer benefits under this bill, as well as any other first responders who may pass this year or next year because of the virus.
Full text of the Safeguarding America’s First Responders (SAFR) Act can be found here.