TOPEKA – (May 21, 2020) – Families of first responders who die or are disabled as a result of COVID-19 should not face unnecessary barriers to benefits already promised under existing federal law, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt told the U.S. Congress in a letter sent to Senate and House leadership today.
“Kansas first responders have taken heroic actions to save the lives of others,” Schmidt said. “They’ve answered the call to service, knowing full well they face potential exposure to COVID-19 in the process. In return, it is our duty to ensure their family members are provided for in the tragic and hopefully unlikely circumstance they give their lives as a result of this virus.”
Schmidt, along with 51 other state and territory attorneys general, today sent the letter urging Congress to pass S.3607, the Safeguarding America’s First Responders (SAFR) Act. The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Cory Booker, D-N.J., would establish a temporary presumption that first responders contracted COVID-19 while on duty if diagnosed within 45 days of his or her last shift. It recently passed the Senate and is currently being considered by the House of Representatives.
Current federal law provides death benefits to survivors of police officers and first responders who lose their life in the line of duty or as the result of a work-related event. However, survivors may only access certain benefits if evidence is provided showing the deceased or permanently disabled first responder contracted COVID-19 while on duty. The attorneys general argue in the letter that determining where and when someone contracts COVID-19 in the midst of a global pandemic presents a unique challenge deserving of a unique response.
Schmidt has prioritized addressing the risks and burdens first responders and front-line workers bear during this crisis at both the federal and state level. In a letter earlier this month, he asked Congress to enact reasonable protections from COVID-19-related liability for first responders, healthcare workers, and members of law enforcement among others. And in a letter sent last week to Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ron Ryckman, Schmidt requested the Kansas Legislature review state-level benefits for first responders and front-line workers who contract COVID-19.
A copy of the letter sent today is available at https://bit.ly/3g8VBag.