The unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has left no state in America unscathed, and the threat from the virus still looms large over the lives of the entire nation. Despite the immense fear and uncertainty during this global health crisis, the one constant has been the brave service and dedication of our essential workers.

Across our city, state, and country, New Yorkers and all Americans were told to "stay home to save lives." And yet, for far too many hardworking Americans, that was not a choice they could make. The COVID-19 crisis has changed the world in ways we are only beginning to quantify. One thing we do know, that we continue to see every day, is the impact this pandemic is having on essential workers and their families. In the midst of this national crisis, these heroes continued to report to work to make sure that we are safe, fed and healthy in our homes.

Put Lives on Line

During this crisis, these essential workers sacrificed their safety by leaving their homes to put their lives on the line for the country. In the face of a deadly virus, they answered the call to serve—often with inadequate protection—and tragically, many have paid with their lives. In recognition and gratitude for their service, we must create a compensation fund for all essential workers, personnel and families who have been injured, sickened or impacted by COVID-19.

This is why I introduced the Pandemic Heroes Compensation Act. This legislation would create a fund similar to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) to provide compensation to any individual, or relatives of a deceased individual, who was deemed an essential worker and was physically injured, sickened or died after rendering essential service during the coronavirus pandemic. Like the VCF, this program would be overseen by a Special Master, a model that has received bipartisan support and has proven to be effective.

On Sept. 11, it was the firefighters and officers who ran into the burning buildings to save lives. During the pandemic, it has been hospital workers—nurses, doctors, EMS, janitorial staff, pharmacists, technicians—and all essential workers. In this fight against the coronavirus, we owe 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.

Despite the immense risk, they answered the call to service, and many paid with their lives. In the first three months of the pandemic alone, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) lost 43 of its members to COVID-19. To date, Transport Workers Union Local 100 has lost more than 125 members.

Be There for Them

We are deeply indebted to these individuals for their courageous service—without them, the entire country's outlook would be much grimmer.

It is now up to Congress to ensure that we will be there for them should they fall ill.

The fund would provide critical financial assistance to help essential workers with medical costs, loss of employment, loss of business, replacement services and burial costs. Importantly, family members who share homes with essential workers and become sick because of contact with them would also be eligible to file claims.

As the lead House sponsor of the legislation that reopened and permanently authorized the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, I know from the experience we had dealing with the aftermath of the toxins at Ground Zero how hard it was for families who lost loved ones to navigate various Workers' Compensation, public benefits, and health-care systems to keep food on the table and stay healthy. The aid we would provide through the Pandemic Heroes Compensation Fund is critical to those who have had their lives uprooted by providing essential services during this pandemic.

No essential workers should have to struggle to pay rent, keep their lights on or put food on the table if they become sick while providing these services. We need bold action to show every essential worker that we will not leave them behind.

Ms. Maloney represents New York's 12th Congressional District.

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