September 17, 2021

Legislator to propose bill protecting first responder line of duty benefits for survivors of Covid victims

Therese Apel

Tom Miles

After the revelation that the Department of Public Safety has been rejecting line of duty death benefits for first responders who have died of Covid, one lawmaker has joined the charge to make sure that doesn’t continue.

On Friday morning, Representative Tom Miles, a Democrat representing District 75, put in a request for a House Bill to make sure the survivors of first responders who die of Covid-19 receive line of duty compensation.

This comes after Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing filed a request for an opinion with Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office asking whether Covid deaths among first responders qualify as line of duty deaths. Current state and federal legislation seems to say that they do, but Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell told several first responders on a conference call recently that DPS will be denying state benefits to the families of police, firefighters, and EMTs who die as a result of Covid.

Miles said in a statement that he saw the reports that families were being denied, and decided to take action.

Miles said he also included a request for front-line health care workers who die as a result of helping Covid patients to be included in the measure, and he suggests that federal Covid recovery funds be considered to cover the expense.

In 2016, legislation went into effect that increased the amount of survivors’ compensation and made sure EMTs and firefighters as well as law enforcement officers would receive the benefits. The legislation insured that Mississippi’s benefits program mirrors the federal program in the individuals that it serves.

“It’s important to note that President Trump signed a bill that includes Covid deaths as ‘line-of-duty’ deaths covered under the Public Safety Officers Benefits Act. It has been reported that Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing has requested an AG’s opinion to determine whether or not our current statute would cover these deaths,” Miles writes. “I believe it is imperative that Covid deaths be considered as line-of-duty deaths under state statute as well. And, including our frontline health care providers in the benefit is the right thing to do, in my opinion. The bill I requested this morning will be filed during the next legislative session to make sure this happens.”

Mississippi Public Service Norther District Commissioner Brandon Presley posted on Facebook Thursday voicing his distaste with the idea of not caring for the family of front-line Covid victims.

“Governor Tate Reeves’s administration is FLAT WRONG to deny these state benefits to the families of Mississippi First Responders. The federal program was created under President Trump and continued under President Biden as a way to acknowledge the sacrifices of First Responders,” Presley wrote. “Both Biden and Trump supported giving the benefit of the doubt with these benefits to the families of our First Responders since we have asked them to continue their work to save lives and keep us safe even during lockdowns. Governor Reeves should immediately reverse this policy.”

Around the state, police, firefighters, and medical first responders have died of Covid after being exposed on duty in essential jobs caring for the public.

“My heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones to this terrible, unrelenting virus,” Miles said. “We are surely living in a time when the words ‘Be ye kind one to another’ should be our shared creed. Let’s all do what we can to make it so.”

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