Washington, D.C. –Today, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered remarks from the House floor before the passage of H.R. 6509, thePublic Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act of 2020. Rep. Nadler, along with Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) and Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ), led the effort to introduce the bill, which expands the existing Public Safety Officers' Benefits program (PSOB) to ensure 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. Rep. Nadler has long championed extending PSOB benefits to those on the front lines of national crises, having introduced and passed a bill in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 expanding eligibility to those killed and injured in the attacks.
Rep. Nadler's floor remarks can be found below:
"Madam Speaker – I rise in strong support of H.R. 6509, the 'Public Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act.'
"I introduced this bill on April 14 in response to the escalating and deadly threat of COVID-19 to our public safety officers, and I am pleased that the House is considering it today. H.R. 6509 expands the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit program—known as the PSOB Program—to ensure that public safety officers who contract COVID-19 in the line of duty are eligible for benefits under the program, should they become disabled or die from the virus.
"This bill would accomplish three critical objectives:
- It establishes 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.
- It ensures 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.
- And it 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.
"Due to the demands placed on public safety officers during this crisis, it is important that Congress enact all of these elements.
"In seeking to protect and serve their communities in their various roles, public safety officers willingly undertake risks of harm on a daily basis. 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. 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. 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.
"H.R. 6509 acknowledges this by clarifying and expanding certain aspects of how the existing PSOB program for officers who contract COVID-19 is applied. If an officer was on duty during this crisis and contracts this disease, his or her illness should be considered a line-of-duty injury.
"And officers who are disabled due to COVID-19 should be eligible for disability benefits under a less stringent standard, given the added risks they undertook during this crisis, particularly because many officers have not been given appropriate equipment to mitigate their risk.
"We must also address another unique and tragic circumstance. I have long been a champion of the public safety officers who provided their service in responding to the deadly 9/11 attacks on our country. In fact, this bill is modeled on legislation that Congress enacted just days after 9/11, which I authored, to ensure that public safety officers who were injured or who were killed in the line of duty because of 9/11 received the benefits they deserved.
"Many first responders lost their lives that day, and in the days and weeks following the attacks, thousands of public safety officers rushed to help the injured and to seek the remains of those who perished.
"Numerous studies have sadly shown that as a result of the attacks, these public safety officers were exposed to a slew of toxic chemicals and dust that directly inhibit lung capacity. Therefore, 9/11 public safety officers are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19, which attacks a person’s ability to breathe effectively.
"H.R. 6509 acknowledges that the service of public safety officers during and after 9/11 continues to put them at a higher risk of disability or death.
"This bill allows those officers who were injured or disabled in the line of duty in relation to 9/11, and whose injuries—in combination with COVID-19 illness—rendered them disabled or caused their death, to apply for benefits under the PSOB program.
"To date, Congress has upheld its promise for 9/11 first responders who, on account of their injuries on 9/11, have been tragically succumbing to cancers and other diseases. Today, we will do so again.
"I note that the Sergeants Benevolent Association of the New York City Police Department wrote to me yesterday, expressing strong support for this bill, and citing the importance of including provisions addressing the 9/11 issue in this legislation. We have also received letters of support for this bill from the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Association of Police Organizations. I will place all of these letters into the record.
"I also want to note that as we work to support our first responders today, we must also support other essential workers who are on the frontlines of this pandemic, like those in the food and healthcare industries, who are putting their lives at risk each day during this crisis.
"We should ensure that all those who are making the ultimate sacrifice for their communities are properly compensated. That work begins today with supporting our public safety officers.
"I thank my colleagues, Representative Max Rose of New York and Representative Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, for their support of this measure from its inception. And I ask my colleagues in the House to join me in supporting this bill so that we may pass it today.
"I reserve the balance of my time."