Washington, DC – Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-14) and Congressman Joe Neguse (CO-02) introduced legislation today to acknowledge and financially support the families of essential workers who have paid the ultimate price. The Essential Worker Pandemic Compensation Act would provide tax-free compensation and additional support for the postsecondary education of surviving spouses and children of essential workers who die of COVID-19. The act would also provide a cash benefit to essential workers who are hospitalized due to the novel coronavirus and recover. The bill has 19 original cosponsors.

“Reports estimate that more than 3,200 health care workers, including hundreds of medical first responders, have died of COVID-19. More than 200 law-enforcement officers, at least 30 firefighters, hundreds of transit workers, at least 124 grocery store workers and 131 meatpacking workers have also perished from the pandemic. And these numbers will only get worse as we move into the darkest months of the pandemic,” Rep. Speier said. “There is no question that we have an obligation to the individuals and families who have paid the ultimate price to ensure their fellow Americans survive this deadly pandemic. We know that financial compensation cannot bring back lost lives, but it’s the least we can do to honor their courage and service. 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 have been on the front lines of this pandemic from the beginning, making sacrifices every day to keep our communities safe. Doctors, nurses, firefighters and first responders, grocery store employees, delivery drivers and other essential workers are the true heroes of this crisis. 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 or their family 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.”

Precedent exists for such a federal program—the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits and Educational Assistance Programs provide a tax-free $370,376 payment and educational benefits (up to $1,265 per month per child pursuing postsecondary education) for the family of a first responder who dies due to injuries sustained in the line of duty. The Essential Worker Pandemic Compensation Act would follow a similar approach, offering meaningful acknowledgement of these sacrifices and financial support to essential workers and their families. Specifically:

  • The Essential Worker Pandemic Compensation Act would be authorized and operated by the Department of Health and Human Services under the supervision of an independent Special Master. The Special Master would accept, review, and pay claims by essential workers or their families.
  • A new fund would be established to pay $370,376 to the survivors of an essential worker who dies as a result of COVID-19 or related complications and offer up to $1,265 per month to cover the costs of postsecondary education for each surviving spouse and child.
  • The fund would pay half the above amount ($185,188) to an essential worker who becomes severely ill and is hospitalized.
  • Payments made by the fund would not be subject to 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.

The Essential Worker Pandemic Compensation Act is co-sponsored by Representatives Blumenauer (OR-03), Carson (IN-07), Cohen (TN-09), García (IL-04), Gomez (CA-34), Grijalva (AZ-03), Hayes (CT-05), Johnson (GA-04), Khanna (CA-17), Lee (CA-13), Newman (IL-03), Norton (DC-At Large), Pressley (MA-07), San Nicolas (GU-At Large), Scanlon (PA-05), Tlaib (MI-13), Vela (TX-34), and Watson Coleman (NJ-12).

The bill is endorsed by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, and American Academy of PAs.

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