Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), the Co-Chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, and Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), sent a letter to Senate Leadership encouraging additional support for first responders in the next COVID-19 relief package. The letter was signed by ten of their colleagues, including Senator Angus King (I-ME).
“During a time of crisis, communities rely on local first responders as the first line of defense for protection and emergency response,” the Senators wrote. “As Congress considers further legislation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge you to include additional support for our nation’s first responders who work in some of the highest risk occupations for COVID-19 exposure.”
The lawmakers detailed the following priorities for first responders:
- Bolster Assistance to Firefighter Grant, Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER), and Department of Justice grant funding, including for the Community Oriented Policing Services program, so that state and local police, fire, and EMS departments can access resources to purchase and be reimbursed for PPE and other COVID-19 related expenses, recruit and retain employees and volunteers, and cover overtime, backfill costs, authorized hazard pay, and COVID-19-related paid sick leave during the crisis.
- Require that the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security waive the cost share and maintenance of expenditure requirements for Assistance to Firefighter Grants for reimbursement of COVID-19-related expenses through FY21.
- Require that the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security grant waivers to SAFER grant recipients for employee retention to aid staffing shortages through FY21. In addition, any legislation should retroactively require that the Secretary grant such waivers for FY19 and FY20 SAFER funds.
- Waive the prohibition on hazard pay for federal firefighters under 5 U.S.C. § 5545b(d)(1) for purposes of COVID-19 response, provide funding to federal agencies sufficient to cover hazard pay to frontline federal firefighters and law enforcement officers when appropriate, extend overtime pay to U.S. Probation Officers, and waive the federal firefighter and law enforcement officer overtime cap under 5 U.S.C. § 5547.
- Address the gap in paid sick leave coverage for first responders by requiring that the employing agency, not the employee, provide up to 80 hours of paid sick leave should these departments order the employee to self-quarantine in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines due to potential COVID-19 exposure.
- Create a presumption in the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program that a public safety officer’s infection of COVID-19 resulted from their employment to clearly establish eligibility for benefits due to the pandemic.
- Prevent the taxation of state and local incentives for volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel beyond 2020 in order to help departments continue to recruit and retain volunteer personnel.
The lawmakers’ effort is supported by the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Association of Police Organizations, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the National Volunteer Fire Council, and the Congressional Fire Services Institute.
In addition to Senators Collins, Coons, and King, the letter was also signed by Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mark Warner (D-VA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
As the co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus and a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Collins has worked to secure funding to support our first responders amid this pandemic. The Senate unanimously passed bipartisan legislation introduced by Senator Collins to ensure families of first responders who have lost their lives to COVID-19 can quickly access survivor benefits.
Following a bipartisan push she spearheaded, FEMA announced that they will make $100 million in emergency funding available for firefighters to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE).
Click HERE to read the letter.