New York (CNN)With the coronavirus pandemic decimating New York City's police and fire departments, first responders, their unions and city officials are pushing to officially designate Covid-19 fatalities as "line of duty" deaths so survivors are eligible for pension benefits.
NYC first responders push for line-of-duty benefits in fight against coronavirus
The push for such a designation, long reserved for cops or firefighters who were injured or died on the job, is being aided by state Assemblyman Peter Abbate Jr. of Brooklyn. The Democrat, who's chairman of the governmental employees committee, says he intends to submit a bill to ensure benefits to the immediate family of all first responders affected by the virus.
"The whole purpose of the bill is to take care of the beneficiaries to make sure they remain whole," Abbate said.
Covid-19 has claimed the lives of 41 NYPD and 11 FDNY members.
The change in line-of-duty status for illnesses and fatalities requires state legislation. But the ultimate question of funding for future benefits looms larger.
House Democrats on Tuesday announced a new Covid-19 stimulus bill with a price tag expected to be more than $3 trillion -- an amount that would stand as the largest relief package in history.
Congressional Republicans dismissed the package as a liberal wish list, with a key member calling the legislation dead on arrival.
The federal bill would provide funding for state and local governments, including line-of-duty benefits for survivors of first responders and a $200 billion "heroes' fund" for hazard pay to essential workers.
"We want to make sure the families are taken care of and we want to honor those who have served valiantly in this crisis and honor their sacrifice to us," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters Wednesday, adding that federal government assistance is key.
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said the pandemic has taken a toll on uniformed members, civilians and even unpaid auxiliary officers in the department.
"Their families' future is at the top of what we are concerned about," he said Wednesday.
"It's an evolving situation, but nothing to us is really more important than making sure that the families of those that suffered during this crisis are taken care of."
The police and fire commissioners have been fielding questions recently from concerned rank and file members during a spate of Covid-19 deaths.
"I personally cannot imagine a member's death directly related to this pandemic not being defined as line of duty," Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said in response to a question from a member of his department.
Police Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch in a statement recalled the long fight to secure legislation for line-of-duty benefits to members who worked on relief efforts after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. State legislation assured families 75% of salaries and health benefits.
"We just finished an 18-year fight to secure treatment and benefits for all of our 9/11 heroes," Lynch said. "Our elected leaders absolutely cannot put the heroes of this pandemic through the same ordeal."
Police officers were not able to shelter in place during the nation's health emergency, Lynch said.
"We had to be out on the streets in every part of the city, interacting with both healthy New Yorkers and sick ones, without adequate protective equipment," he said. "Those who were made ill by their service to the city -- especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice -- need to be guaranteed full line of duty benefits."