Labor & Employment Law Daily House passes bill to create line-of-duty presumption for public safety officers who get COVID-19
Monday, June 1, 2020

House passes bill to create line-of-duty presumption for public safety officers who get COVID-19

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

A diagnosis, positive test, or evidence of infection would be presumed a personal injury in the line of duty for purposes of PSOB eligibility, unless the officer was not on duty during the relevant period.

On May 27, the House passed by a voice vote the Public Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act of 2020, which expands the existing Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program (PSOB) to make sure that public safety officers who contract COVID-19 in the line of duty are eligible for benefits should they become disabled or die from the virus.

Public Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act. According to Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who introduced the bill on April 14, 2020, H.R. 6509 would:

  • Establish that a diagnosis, a positive test, or evidence of COVID-19 infection shall be presumed to constitute a personal injury in the line of duty for the purposes of eligibility for the PSOB program, unless the officer was not on duty in the relevant time period.
  • Ensure that officers who were injured or disabled in the line of duty in relation to the attacks of September 11, 2001, and whose injuries—in combination with a COVID-19 illness—rendered them disabled or caused their death will receive benefits under the PSOB program.
  • Establishes that the COVID-19-related disability standard is based on whether a PSOB claimant is permanently prevented from performing any gainful work as a public safety officer on account of their COVID-19 diagnosis.

High risk of exposure. The legislation acknowledges that public safety officers face a high risk of contracting COVID-19 while on duty. “In seeking to protect and serve their communities in their various roles, public safety officers willingly undertake risks of harm on a daily basis,” Nadler said on the House floor before the vote. “Because of this, we have established the PSOB program to provide disability and death benefits for them when they are disabled or die due to line-of-duty injuries.”

“During the current crisis of COVID-19 contagion, the risks to public safety officers go well beyond the dangers first responders ordinarily experience,” Nadler continued. “Police officers, fire fighters and EMTs are often the first responders that those with COVID-19 first encounter.”

“Current estimates are that nearly 40% of COVID-19 carriers are asymptomatic,” the Congressman pointed out. “Therefore, for first responders, even ordinary encounters with members of the community become potentially life-threatening events. On top of this, a lack of availability of appropriate personal protective equipment has unnecessarily exposed thousands of officers to COVID-19. Despite the additional risks they take on, public safety officers continue to faithfully execute their jobs.”

Line-of-duty presumption. “While nothing can ever replace a loved one, this program gives our first responders peace of mind, knowing that their families will be taken care of should the worst happen,” said Representative Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa). “However, to receive benefits under current law, first responders must prove they contracted COVID-19 while on duty,” he explained. “Both Republicans and Democrats agree: Congress must amend the PSOB program to create a presumption allowing officers and their families to receive assistance without facing this burdensome requirement.”

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