The U.S. House members who led the charge for the 9/11 Victims' Compensation Fund have teamed up to introduce the Pandemic Heroes Compensation Act, which will cover all essential workers who have become ill or died as a result of COVID-19.
Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), and Congressman Peter King (R-NY), were joined at a May 14 virtual press conference by U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) who will lead the effort in the upper house of Congress.
The initiative has already attracted substantial support from the labor movement.
260 City Workers Died
As of May 14, 260 municipal workers had died during the pandemic. Across the country, thousands of health-care, public-safety, transit, postal and food-service and distribution employees were victims.
The legislation is modeled on the VCF and will require the appointment of a Special Master under the auspices of the U.S. Treasury Department. The program will be open to both public- and private-sector employees whose jobs were designated "essential" during the state of emergency.
The fund would also provide compensation to any essential worker's household member who contracted the virus.
Union officials have reported instances where a member survived a bout with the virus but was left disabled by blood clots in the lungs or legs.
"The fund that we are putting forward today would provide critical financial assistance to help essential workers with medical costs, loss of employment, loss of business, replacement services, and burial costs," said Ms. Maloney, who added their households would also be covered.
'Made Immense Sacrifices'
She continued, "These families have made immense sacrifices to here for us when we needed them most and it is now up to Congress to ensure that we will be there should they fall ill."
"Right now, workers all over this country are putting their lives on the line to help their sick neighbors, keep people fed, and keep our essential services running," said Mr. Nadler.
"It is morally essential that Congress pass the Pandemic Heroes Compensation Act for these heroes and their families," Mr. King said.
Senator Duckworth, a U.S. Army pilot who lost both her legs during the Iraq War after a rocket-propelled grenade struck her helicopter, said the nation had an obligation "to take care of the loved ones of those essential workers who perish as a result of their decision to go back to work to help others."
"In New York City we are no strangers to the aftermath being nearly as bad as the event itself," said Gerard Fitzgerald, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. "All of us know that fateful day on Sept. 11, 2001 and the days, weeks and months after the struggle and pain was just beginning for firefighters, first-responders, police officers and recovery workers."
Tormented by Uncertainty
Mr. Fitzgerald told reporters that thousands of firefighters had been stricken by the virus, and it posed "starkly different challenges" than 9/11 due to the "uncertainty about contracting the virus."
"Was it when you were giving CPR to the mother or grandmother in their home" or during a fire rescue of someone who was a "carrier of the virus?" he said. "What weighs on our mind most is the impact we could have without knowing it on our vulnerable family."
James Lemonda, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said, "This time, again the nation is under attack coast to coast and you can't see the enemy. This is far from over. Some our best medical scientific people in the world are warning us that although we are stemming the tide, certainly this could get worse before it gets better."
Ronnie Stutts, president of the National Rural Letter Carriers, said that close to 1,000 U.S. Postal workers have tested positive for COVID-19, and 59 of them died.
'Backbone of America'
"The rural letter carriers as well as other postal employees are part of the backbone of America that provide an essential service to Americans of every address, something that is even more crucial now that so many people must stay at home," Mr. Stutts said.
Mass-transit workers have been particularly hard hit by the virus, with 110 Metropolitan Transportation Authority employees dying.
"Our members are heroes moving heroes, and we walk into harm's way every day," said Anthony Simon, general chairman/ international vice president of the SMART Transportation Division, which represent LIRR and MTA workers. "All of these first responders and essential workers and their families deserve to be taken care of."
The bill's boosters told reporters that there had been no cost estimate yet from the Congressional Budget Office.
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