CORONAVIRUS

Iowa, federal bills would extend coronavirus coverage to first responders

Sen. Chuck Grassley pushes for death benefits; state bill considers virus a line-of-duty injury

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in 2018. (Washington Post)
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in 2018. (Washington Post)

With first responders facing increased dangers because of the novel coronavirus, efforts are underway at the state and federal levels to ensure that COVID-19 is treated as a line-of-duty incident.

Working with Democratic U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Diane Feinstein of California and others, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley is pushing for passage of legislation to ensure families of public safety officers lost to COVID-19 can quickly access survivor benefits.

Already some first responders on the front lines in the fight against the pandemic have contracted COVID-19 and died while working to keep our communities healthy and safe, Grassley said.

“COVID-19 knows no bounds,” Grassley said, adding that as of mid-March, 101 officers had died in the line of duty because of COVID-19.

The government already provides payments to families of officers or first responders who die from a work-related event, Grassley said. His bill, the Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act, would create a presumption that if a first responder is diagnosed with COVID-19 within 45 days of his or her last day on duty, it will be treated as a line-of-duty incident.

“This bipartisan bill recognizes the unique challenges posed by this pandemic and better ensures that public safety officers’ families can quickly access the financial help they’ve been promised,” Grassley said.

His bill has passed the Senate unanimously and is awaiting House action.

On Thursday, May 52 state and territory attorneys general, including Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, sent a letter to congressional leadership calling for swift action.

Bill in Iowa Legislature

While Grassley’s bill addresses death benefits, one in the Iowa Legislature would create a presumption that COVID-19 is a line-of- duty incident for first responders. Time off, medical care and recovery associated with the respiratory illness would be covered as a line-of-duty injury under House File 2025.

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“I believe first responders who must be quarantined, isolated or removed from public safety service due to exposure to COVID-19, or who contract COVID-19, should be treated as a workplace injury and afforded the protections of a line-of-duty injury,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton. “These men and women are on the front lines taking care of us, and they are having to use sick leave or pay for their own treatments.”

His bill was passed by the House, but it was not taken up by the Senate before the session was suspended in mid-March. Kaufmann said he hopes the Senate will consider the bill when the session resumes June 3.

“The circumstances of loss are different now, but no less heroic or devastating,” Grassley said about first responders who contract COVID-19. “We must continue to honor members of the law enforcement community who have made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

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All donations are tax-deductible.