Assemblywoman Shanique Speight, joined by Senators Vin Gopal and Linda R. Greenstein, has introduced legislation to provide financial assistance to first responders who are struggling with long-term health concerns and economic hardships as a result of contracting COVID-19 in the line of duty.
The legislation (A5136/S3660) was introduced by Assemblywoman Speight on February 6, 2023. It calls for the creation of a First Responders COVID-19 Supplemental Benefits Program Advisory Council in the Division of Workers’ Compensation to provide supplemental benefits to eligible first responders. The council would be made up of police officers, firefighters, emergency services personnel, and state officials.
“The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we worked, communicated with friends and family, and educated our children. While many employees worked from home, first responders and frontline providers put their lives on the line to ensure the safety of others,” said Assemblywoman Speight (D-Essex). “As a law enforcement officer I watched as many of my colleagues tackled cases of domestic violence and abuse, which grew to outstanding rates during the pandemic. These officers risked their health and the health of their families to fulfill their duty to protect and serve. Unfortunately, many of my fellow officers have experienced long COVID symptoms, resulting in lingering health problems and lost wages. This legislation ensures that we provide a helping hand to first responders in need.”
The First Responders COVID-19 Supplemental Benefits Program addresses the economic losses of first responders who are eligible for workers’ compensation because of long-term symptoms, known as long COVID, following recovery from acute cases of the virus.
“Our first responders put their lives on the line for us every day. But the pandemic brought them an unprecedented level of risk,” said Senator Gopal (D-Monmouth). “Throughout the pandemic, our first responders continued to do their jobs and help people in emergencies, regardless of the personal risk and the concern that they could bring Covid-19 home to their families. We must make the first responders who suffered financial losses because they got sick with Covid financially sound again.”
The sponsors said the legislation recognizes the extraordinary risks first responders faced and the sacrifices they made doing their jobs during the pandemic.
“Our first responders have been nothing short of heroic in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They have put their own lives at risk, bravely stepping up to protect and serve our communities in the face of unprecedented challenges,” said Greenstein (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “This program is a vital step towards recognizing the sacrifices they’ve made by helping to alleviate the economic hardships faced by those who contract COVID-19 on the job. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this bill, and I look forward to working together to help our first responders in their time of need.”
The bill, which appropriates $20 million from the state General Fund for the program, was introduced in the Senate on February 27, 2023 and has been referred to the Law and Public Safety Committees of both houses.