Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, both D-Delaware, highlighted on May 15 the passage of two bills in the Senate to help first responders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act and the Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Act passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Thursday. Carper is chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus. Coons, co-chair of the Senate Law Enforcement Caucus and member of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, was an original cosponsor of both bills.
“Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, one of my top priorities is delivering support for first responders who are bravely serving their communities,” said Coons. “I helped introduce both the Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act and the Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Act, and I’m glad that these bills have advanced through the Senate with bipartisan support. I hope both bills soon become law and deliver this support to first responders”
The Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act would make first responders who die from COVID-19 presumptively eligible for Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program death benefits from the federal government. Determining where and when someone contracts COVID-19 would likely prove impossible for most first responders. This bill overcomes that challenge by establishing a temporary presumption that COVID-19 infections will be considered to have been contracted while on duty if a first responder is diagnosed within 45 days of the officer’s last shift. The legislation ensures that families of officers and first responders lost while fighting the pandemic don’t face unnecessary barriers to the benefits they deserve.
The Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Act would require the FBI director to collect data about and issue a report on suicide rates within federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Currently, the FBI tracks line of duty deaths, but it does not compile statistics on law enforcement suicides. Understanding this data will help medical professionals and policymakers develop more effective mental health resources for first responders going forward.