Gounardes, Abbate pass bill to provide benefits to families who lost public employee to COVID-19

Originally published in Brooklyn Reporter on June 02, 2020.

On Thursday, May 28, State Senator Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Peter Abbate passed a bill that will give financial benefits for family members of public employees who died due to COVID-19. The legislation means they will be eligible for accidental death benefits to be paid out yearly to their beneficiaries.

Currently, public employees who die of the novel coronavirus are eligible for ordinary death benefits, which means if their deaths were not the result of an accident on the job.

The will ensures that public servants who died of COVID-19 would receive the more substantial death benefits resulting from an in-service accident.

Gounardes discussed the sacrifice these workers made for the city in Albany.

 

“Every night at 7p.m. in New York City, we cheer for our essential workers who have battled the coronavirus and have kept our state running throughout this pandemic,” he said. “For a time, it was these cheers that gave people a flicker of hope and faith before the ending, wailing of ambulance sirens became our gruesome and tragic nightly symphony. New Yorkers know our essential workers have pulled us through this crisis, that they have answered the call of duty to respond to emergencies, treat our sick and teach our kids. They put their lives on the line so the rest us can stay home and stay safe.”

He added that nearly 300 public servants across our state have died from the coronavirus in just 10 weeks. With many of them from New York City.

“They died at the hands of a vicious and cruel virus that has taken more than 100,000 lives of our fellow Americans,” Gounardes added. “But make no mistake, they also died in the service of their city and state. Many of them, when asked to answer that call of service did so without being given basic protective equipment or even worse, were not told they were working alongside colleagues that were sick or workplaces that were presumed to be infected. Bus drivers shuttling essential workers to and from hospitals without being given face masks. EMS workers answering thousands of 911 calls, forced to use the same PPE all week when it wasn’t even enough to last through a single shift. Teachers being forced to report to school buildings being misled that they were likely being infected by sick colleagues they were never told about.”

Abbate also chimed in during a statement.

 

“”I’m thankful that the Senate and Assembly were able to work together on such an important issue and take this positive step forward for the working men and women of New York State,” said Assemblyman Peter Abbate, Jr.

Gounardes added that not since September 11, 2001 has the city and state seen a death count this high of people who wear the uniform of our city or state.

“Tonight, we are going to honor the memory of these fallen heroes not with words or platitudes, but with action to care for the families they left behind,” he said. “The COVID-19 line of duty bill will ensure that families of public servants who died from this pandemic are cared for. It will prevent family members from being thrust into financial insecurity at the height of their unspeakable grief.”

First responders and organizations responded to the new bill.

 

“Since the earliest days of the Coronavirus reaching America, FDNY EMS Local 2507 members have been the first point of contact for hundreds-of thousands of New Yorkers requiring emergency medical care,” said President of FDNY EMS Local 2507 Oren Barzilay. “The inclusion of death benefit protections for our workforce, for our nurses, other first responders and their families is imperative.  From the women and men on the front lines, thank you for recognizing our sacrifices,.”

“I want to thank Senator Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Peter  Abbate for taking up this cause and making sure that the educators and other public servants who have died in this pandemic are recognized and that their families are cared for,” added Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.