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S. 476: Pandemic Heroes Compensation Act of 2021


For these purposes, is the pandemic analogous to the 2001 terrorist attacks?

Context

Less than two weeks after the terrorist attacks, Congress enacted the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, dispensing billions of dollars to those seriously injured or families who lost members in the attacks.

The bill received temporary funding for years, until the funding was made “permanent” in 2019 — that is, funded through fiscal year 2092. The vote was 402–12 in the House and 97–2 in the Senate, and it was signed into law by President Trump.

Now, the lead House sponsor of that legislation is seeking to create a similar fund for essential workers and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What the legislation does

The Pandemic Heroes Compensation Act would allocate money to essential workers who became ill during COVID-19, or the families of essential workers who died from it.

The Senate version was introduced on February 25 as S. 476, by Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). The House version was introduced the same day as H.R. 1357, by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY12).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that as the U.S. has lost 572,000 lives and counting to COVID-19, helping those who kept the country running during that time is the least we can do.

“On September 11th, it was the firefighters and officers who ran into the burning buildings to save lives. Over the last year, as New York City and the country battled the COVID pandemic, it is hospital workers — nurses, doctors, EMS [emergency medical services], janitorial staff, pharmacists, technicians — and all essential workers who have put so much on the line to keep us safe and healthy,” Rep. Maloney said in a press release. “They have been there for us — taking care of our loved ones, stocking food shelves, keeping trains and busses running, delivering our mail — and we must assure them that if they or their loved ones become ill with COVID, we’ll be there to support them, too.”

“Our nation’s dedicated health care workers, first responders, letter carriers and legions of other vital essential workers are serving on the front lines to care for patients battling COVID-19 infections and keep our country running during a deadly pandemic that has already killed more than half a million Americans,” Sen. Duckworth said in a separate press release. “While we have to do much more to protect these men and women as they take on greater risks during this pandemic, we also need to recognize the sad reality that our nation has a responsibility to take care of the loved ones of those essential workers who perish as a result of their decision to go back to work to help others.”

What opponents say

Although GovTrack Insider was unable to locate any explicit statements of opposition, two critiques of this bill may be the cost and the potential for fraud and abuse.

While the Congressional Budget Office does not appear to have provided a cost estimate yet, they estimate the permanent 9/11 fund authorization would cost more than $10 billion over the next decade. And who knows how long this could last — until her June 2020 death, a North Carolina woman named Irene Triplett was still collecting a $73/month Civil War widow’s pension.

The bill’s text doesn’t just allow compensation for those who COVID-19, but also those who “expressed symptoms consistent with COVID–19.” Opponents may worry this opens the bill up to scores of fraudulent lawsuits. Could people who got sick with something else during the pandemic potentially still be found eligible, against the congressional sponsors’ intent?

Odds of passage

The House version has attracted 39 cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee. A prior 2020 House version attracted 42 bipartisan cosponsors, 41 Democrats and one Republican, but never received a vote in the Democratic-led chamber. The one Republican cosponsor was former Rep. Pete King (R-NY2), who’s no longer serving.

The Senate version has attracted five cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. A prior 2020 Senate version attracted six cosponsors, all Democrats, but never received a vote in the then-Republican-led chamber.

Judging by the partisan cosponsorship, this bill will likely face a tougher road to passage than the original 9/11 fund. Enacted as part of the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act of 2001, the bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent and the House by 356–54.

Last updated May 4, 2021. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Feb 25, 2021.


Pandemic Heroes Compensation Act of 2021

This bill allows essential workers and their family members to file claims and receive compensation for harm or death suffered as a result of COVID-19 (i.e., coronavirus disease 2019).

A Special Master appointed by the Department of Justice must review claims submitted and determine if a claimant is eligible for compensation, the extent of the harm to the claimant, and the amount of compensation to be awarded.