Washington, DC – Reps. Jackie Speier (CA-14), Joe Neguse (CO-02), and Max Rose (NY-11) today introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to compensate the families of essential workers who die as a result of COVID-19 or related complications. The Essential Worker Pandemic Compensation Act would provide a tax-free death benefit and additional support for the postsecondary education of surviving spouses and children of deceased essential workers. The act would also provide a cash benefit to essential workers who are hospitalized due to the novel coronavirus and recover. The legislation has 26 original cosponsors.

“Every time we hear about losing another frontline worker to COVID-19 it tears at our hearts and the nation mourns,” Rep. Speier said. “We understand, as a country, that we have an obligation to these brave and selfless individuals and their families who have also paid the ultimate price while doing work that enables Americans to survive this pandemic. While financial compensation cannot bring back what is lost, it is the least we can do as a society to honor their courage, service, and loss. We must never forget those who have died in the fight against this virus, and we must not leave their loved ones behind.”

“Essential workers—from doctors and nurses to grocery store employees and delivery drivers—are the true heroes of this crisis. We are indebted to them and their families for the sacrifices they are making every day, putting their lives on the line to keep our communities safe. We must ensure we are stepping up for these workers and their families, just as they have done for us, without question, time and again,” Rep. Neguse said. “The Essential Worker Pandemic Compensation Act will ensure that every essential worker is compensated for their sacrifice if they are hospitalized or pass away. While financial compensation cannot bring back what is lost, it is the least we can do as a society to acknowledge this debt.”

“We owe essential workers more than just gratitude, we must ensure the United States of America will always be there for them and their families if they get sick as a result of their sacrifices,” Rep. Rose said. “This legislation is a small measure of America’s enormous debt towards these brave workers, which is why I’m proud to have worked with my colleagues to lead this effort.”

“This proposed legislation should be carefully considered by the Congress,” Kenneth Feinberg, Former Administrator of the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund of 2001 said. “It offers a creative approach to recognizing the patriotism, dedication, and selflessness of those essential workers on the frontline combating the coronavirus pandemic. We are one nation and one community in recognizing their heroism. This legislation is an example of the gratitude of the American people.”

The U.S. government has established compensation programs for similar purposes in the past, including for victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and a longstanding program for public safety officers who die as a result of injuries sustained in the line of duty. Building on the experience of these efforts, the Essential Worker Pandemic Compensation Program would:

  • Be supervised by an independent special master. The special master would accept, review, and pay claims by essential workers or their families.
  • Pay a $365,670 death benefit to the survivors of an essential worker who dies as a result of COVID-19 or related complications and offer up to $1,248 per month to cover the costs of up to 45 months of full-time postsecondary education for each surviving spouse and child.
  • Pay half of the death benefit ($182,835) to an essential worker who is hospitalized due to COVID-19 or related complications and lives.

Payments made by the program would not be subject to federal income or payroll taxes. Essential workers would be defined by the Department of Homeland Security’s Version 3.0 Guidance on Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers.

“On behalf of 700,000 federal and D.C. government workers, many of whom are on the front lines of this pandemic, the American Federation of Government Employees strongly supports legislation sponsored by Representative Jackie Speier that would provide families of essential workers who die from COVID-19 or related complications with financial support in recognition of their loss,” American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley said. “Essential workers are keeping our country running and delivering vital services to the American public despite this global pandemic – and they are doing so at great personal risk to themselves and their families. This includes health care workers and staff at veterans’ hospitals, grocery store workers and those at food manufacturing plants, correctional officers and prison staff, public and environmental health workers, law enforcement officers and first responders, workers across the transportation sector, and those maintaining the defense industrial base. Anyone who sacrifices their life while in the performance of their official duties deserves to know that their loved ones will be cared for.”

“Frontline transit workers have been devastated by the pandemic – but without them, America wouldn’t stand a chance against the virus,” Transport Workers Union International President John Samuelsen said. “Transport workers are once again the unsung heroes of another national tragedy. Society has a moral responsibility to do everything it can to take care of and provide for the families of fallen and disabled workers. Thank you to Reps. Speier, Neguse, and Rose for their leadership in looking out for these families and recognizing the sacrifice they have made.”

Other endorsing organizations include: United Food and Commercial Workers, Amalgamated Transit Union, Communication Workers of America, American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, American Academy of PAs, American Chiropractic Association, American College of Nurse-Midwives, American Nurses Association, American Occupational Therapy Association, American Optometric Association, American Physical Therapy Association, National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, and the National Association of Social Workers.

The legislation is cosponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Andre’ Carson, Judy Chu, Steve Cohen, Henry Cuellar, Eliot Engel, Jesús G. “Chuy” García, Al Green, Raúl M. Grijalva, Jahana Hayes, Sheila Jackson Lee, Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr., Barbara Lee, Stephen F. Lynch, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Michael F. Q. San Nicolas, Mary Gay Scanlon, Darren Soto, Mike Thompson, Rashida Tlaib, and Filemon Vela.

A copy of the bill is attached to this press release.