In an effort to help the first responders risking their health and safety to serve their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, Assembly Democrats Carol Murphy, Annette Chaparro and Raj Mukherji sponsor a bill to extend eligibility for accidental disability and death benefits to certain first responders who contract the disease. The legislation unanimously passed the Senate and Assembly on Monday.
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.
The bill (A-3945) 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.
Upon the bill passing both Houses, Assemblywoman Murphy (D-Burlington), along with Assemblywoman Chaparro and Assemblyman Mukherji (both D-Hudson) released the following joint statement:
“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.
“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.
“Similarly, a first responder whose illness has significantly and permanently affected their health and functionality should be secure in the knowledge that they’ll be taken care of through the accidental disability benefits they deserve.
“New Jersey owes debt of gratitude to each and every one of these brave residents protecting our communities under these challenging and unprecedented circumstances. Providing these benefits is one way we can thank them for all they have been doing – and continue to do – for our state.”