Washington, D.C. – As America’s first responders face perils on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed bipartisan legislation to ensure families of first responders who have lost their lives to COVID-19 can quickly access survivor benefits. The Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act (SAFR), which was introduced earlier this month by Senator Collins and a bipartisan group of her colleagues, 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 bill now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration.
“The brave men and women serving as police officers, fire fighters, and other first responders are working to keep our communities safe throughout this public health crisis. In addition to providing first responders with the resources and PPE they need to help them stay safe, we must ensure that their families are protected and cared for,” said Senator Collins. “I am pleased that the Senate passed our bipartisan bill that would allow families to access their benefits through the Public Safety Officers Benefits Program without facing unnecessary barriers.”
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 this challenge 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 this pandemic will not face unnecessary barriers to benefits they have already been promised.
The legislation is endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, National Association of Police Officers, 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.
In addition to Senator Collins, SAFR was introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Steve Daines (R-MT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Rick Scott (R-FL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
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. 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).