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All EMS Workers Should be Eligible for Federal Benefits Program

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Paramedics, emergency medical technicians and other emergency medical services workers put their lives on the line for their communities, a fact that’s becoming amply clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. EMS professionals working for government agencies and private companies are saving lives, and many are dying or getting seriously injured on the job.

Under the federal Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program (PSOB), only the family members of first responders employed by the government or nonprofits who die in the line of duty are eligible to receive survivor benefits.

AFSCME is fighting to broaden PSOB to include all EMS workers so their survivors are not left out in the cold – an effort that has greater significance during National EMS Week.

Jason Brollini, executive director of United EMS Workers-AFSCME Local 4911, recently wrote to the Justice Department, which administers PSOB, seeking “equity and clear inclusion … for EMS professionals employed by a for-profit rescue squad or ambulance provider.”

“At times we can be overlooked and undervalued in our vital role. Therefore, we seek clear inclusion to the same benefits as other public safety officers and first responders so we at least know that should tragedy befall us, our survivors and dependents will be afforded same support, relief, and opportunities,” Brollini wrote.

However, under a Justice Department interpretation, members of Local 4911, most of whom are employed by the nation’s largest private ambulance company, American Medical Response (AMR), are not eligible for the PSOB.

In response, AFSCME is working to persuade Congress to do the right thing for these vital  EMS professionals. Our union has launched a grassroots campaign to push Congress to include all EMS workers in the PSOB.

AFSCME is also advocating for all public safety officers and first responders who succumb to COVID-19 so they don’t have to jump through unnecessary hoops to prove that they contracted the virus in the line of duty in order to receive support. 

New York Rep. Jerrod Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has introduced The Public Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act of 2020 (H.R. 6509). That bill ensures that if public safety professionals become disabled or die from COVID-19, it will be presumed to be in the line of duty and their families will be eligible for benefits through PSOB.

Some provisions of H.R. 6509 were included in the HEROES Act, which the House passed late Friday and sent to the Senate.

While praising Nadler for updating the PSOB by including disability benefits, AFSCME is urging him to ensure Congress adds all EMS workers to the PSOB.

“The employer’s legal business status is not a factor as to whether they can be disabled or killed in the line of duty,” AFSCME said in a recent letter to Nadler. “Potential exclusion because of an organization’s articles of incorporation run contrary to a program that is established to provide relief to the survivors of fallen first responders, and disability benefits to those catastrophically injured in the line of duty.”

Of the 1.4 million members of AFSCME, nearly 100,000 work in public safety, emergency medical services and first response. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, these front-line heroes have shouldered added risk to their already dangerous jobs.

Recently, as COVID-19 pushed the Fire Department of New York’s EMS units to their limits, the Federal Emergency Management Agency used its contract with AMR to deploy more than 750 EMS professionals and 350 ambulances – including AFSCME members from New Hampshire – to help the beleaguered city.

EMS professionals like Blake Anderson, a member of Local 4911, who volunteered to be part of a “strike team” on board the Grand Princess cruise ship to treat COVID-19 patients, deserve the same protections as other EMS workers, regardless of who signs their paychecks.

Whether it’s hurricanes, wildfires, mass shootings, and now, a global pandemic, federal, state and local governments rely on the professionalism, skill and bravery of the first responders, regardless of who employs them. All these heroes deserve the same safeguards, and their family members deserve the same death or disability benefits.

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