House, Senate Lawmakers Propose Essential Workers Fund
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Legislation that would compensate essential workers who became ill or died from COVID-19 while performing their services was recently introduced by Senate Democrats.
The Pandemic Heroes Compensation Act would establish a fund for those who qualify, such as certain individuals who were required to provide products or services deemed essential during the pandemic.
A summary detailing the bill’s provisions indicated that funds would be appropriated for five years, as needed, to assist with medical costs, loss of employment or business, and burial costs. Also a website would be set up to facilitate with the application process.
Claimants would need to provide information about the extent of their loss, and eligible individuals would receive compensation no later than 20 days after their approval, according to the bill. Family members at home with such essential workers who then became sick through contact also would be eligible.
The legislation has not been scheduled for debate on the floor of the Senate by Republican leaders. The bill was modeled after a fund for individuals whose health was affected by the response to the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Our essential workers risk their health and their lives daily to keep us safe,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said May 21. She is a bill sponsor. “From the beginning of this crisis, they have been serving on the front lines, getting sick, and some unfortunately are dying. Essential workers stepped up for our country; now Congress needs to step up for them.
“The Pandemic Heroes Compensation Act will provide a critical fund to ensure our nation’s heroes and their families receive the resources they need. I am proud to support this important bill in the Senate, and I will work with my colleagues to ensure it becomes law.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), also a sponsor, said, “These heroes on the front line vary widely in jobs from health care professionals and first responders to grocery store employees, delivery drivers, janitorial staff and transit workers. What they have in common is clearly uncommon courage and dedication.
“Front-line workers continue to put their lives on the line, and they and their families deserve more than platitudes; they’ve earned full, fair compensation for the risks they’ve taken on our behalf.”
Other sponsors in the Senate include Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
A version of the legislation had been introduced in the House. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, a sponsor, noted: “In this fight against the coronavirus, it is the first responders, retail workers, transit workers, grocery store clerks, delivery workers, janitorial staff, sanitation workers, mail carriers, hospitality workers, and federal, state and local employees who are on the front lines, walking into the fire every day as they risk their health to make sure we are safe, fed and healthy.”
Other House sponsors include New York Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D) and Peter King (R).
“America will be forever indebted to the first responders and essential workers who put their lives on the line throughout this pandemic,” King added.
The measure is backed by groups representing firefighters, the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, and SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.
“Our members are heroes moving heroes, and we walk into harm’s way every day,” said Anthony Simon, general chairman/Alt International vice president at SMART Transportation Division. “We take pride in our jobs and our country. The Pandemic Heroes Compensation Act shows that our [New York] delegation is not only about the words. It is about action.”
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