A bill that would give benefits to first responders disabled or killed by COVID-19 is heading to Gov. Phil Murphy’s (D) desk after clearing both the state assembly and the senate.
Law enforcement officers, state troopers, firefighters and emergency medical responders enrolled in one of the three retirement systems associated with these professions are eligible for accidental disability benefits if they sustain a permanent and total disability resulting from a traumatic event that occurred on the job.
Similarly, their named beneficiaries are eligible for accidental death benefits if they lose their lives in the line of duty.
Bill A-3945, sponsored by Assembly members Carol Murphy (D-7), Annette Chaparro, and Raj Mukherji (both D-33), would extend eligibility for these benefits to first responders who become disabled or die as a result of contracting COVID-19, as indicated by a positive test.
In order to qualify, the employee would have had to begin showing symptoms within 14 days of interacting with the public or supervising other personnel who interacted with the public as part of their job during the COVID-19 public health emergency declared and extended by the Governor in Executive Order No. 103.
New onset diseases or chronic psychological diseases that may appear later in possible connection to prior COVID-19 exposure and subsequent recovery would not be considered a permanent and total disability caused by the virus.
Proof that the first responder ‘more likely than not’ contracted the disease in the line of duty would no longer be required, but documentation proving the positive COVID-19 test would be.
The legislation would retroactively cover applicable circumstances that took place between the declaration of the emergency in the executive order and its end date.
“Our first responders are courageously putting their own lives on the line to keep our communities safe during this crisis. Every time they respond to distress calls to help prevent unlawful activity, put out fires or administer care to people experiencing medical emergencies, they run the risk of contracting COVID-19 from the very people they’re helping,” the three legislative sponsors said in a joint statement.
“So many of our firefighters, police and EMS responders have already been infected with COVID-19, and not all of them survived their encounter with this deadly virus. After tragically losing a family member, grieving families should not be expected to somehow prove their loved one most likely contracted the virus on the job. It is our duty to honor their loved one’s sacrifice by making sure these families receive the benefits they need without placing the burden of proof on their shoulders.”
An Assembly panel cleared the bill back in May.