This week, President Donald Trump signed a proposal to help the survivors of first responders who die during the coronavirus pandemic quickly obtain benefits. The bill had strong support from elected officials across Florida.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, teamed up in May to introduce the “Safeguarding America’s First Responders (SAFR) Act.” U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., cosponsored the proposal.
“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. The government already provides payments to families of officers or first responders who die from a work-related event, but 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,” Grassley said when he introduced the proposal.
“Our first responders risk their lives each day to protect us from the threat of COVID-19, and many have already made the ultimate sacrifice. There must be no question that our country will support their families when the unthinkable happens. Our bipartisan legislation will make certain that the families of these heroes get the benefits they are rightfully owed,” Booker said.
“Our first responders put their lives at risk every day to protect others, and we have to do everything we can to support these heroes. I’m proud to join my colleagues to sponsor this legislation to support families of the first responders on the frontline of this crisis and give them some peace of mind amid heartbreak,” Scott said.
The bill reforms the U.S. Justice Department’s Public Safety Officers Benefits Program “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” and ensuring “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 Fraternal Order of Police, the National Association of Police Officers, the Federal Law Enforcement Officer Association, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the Sergeants Benevolent Association of New York and the National Association of School Resource Officers all backed the bill.
The bill cleared the Senate on a voice vote back in May. Last month, the U.S. House passed its version, which was championed by U.S. Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, without opposition.
In Tallahassee, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody was a prominent backer of the bill.
“Law enforcement officers are risking their health and safety to keep us safe from crime amid the worst pandemic in our lifetime. Many officers are being coughed at on purpose by criminals they encounter while protecting their communities. Tragically, some have contracted COVID-19 and succumbed to this deadly disease. As the wife of a law enforcement officer, I know the risks our first responders face, and how this pandemic has only increased the dangers of their service and the stress placed on their loved ones,” Moody said in May.
“We must do everything we can to protect our first responders and support their families should their service end in tragedy. That is why I am asking Congress to pass the Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act. This Act will show our law enforcement officers that we appreciate all they do to keep us safe and are grateful for their service in the face of this invisible enemy,” Moody added.
More than 50 other attorneys general joined Moody in signing a letter to Congress urging passage of the bill. Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine helped Moody as co-leader of the letter.
“When public safety officers are called to respond, they do not know whether they are coming into contact with a person who is positive for COVID-19. We have seen harrowing stories about how public safety officers have taken heroic actions to save the lives of others, knowing that they risked infection in doing so,” the attorneys general wrote in support of the bill.
Moody weighed in on Monday after Trump signed the bill.
“Our nation has now lost more law enforcement officers in the line of duty this year than we lost in all of 2019. COVID-19 and violent attacks on these heroes are the driving forces behind this disturbing increase. As the wife of a law enforcement officer, these grave statistics are personal to me and I am extremely grateful President Trump signed this vital piece of legislation to support the families of these brave public servants on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and many other dangerous crises facing our nation today,” Moody said on Monday.
“I was proud to lead attorneys general from across the country in support of this measure. As a member of the president’s Commission on Law Enforcement, I am honored to work with the president, U.S. attorney general and law enforcement leaders across our country to find additional ways to support our law enforcement heroes while improving policing to better serve all Americans,” Moody added.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org.