Following House Democrats’ proposal of the HEROES Act (H.R. 6800) on Tuesday, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) outlined possible impacts of the latest coronavirus aid package, and called upon fire and EMS professionals to contact their congressional representatives to support the legislation.
The bill would provide nearly $1 trillion in aid for states, cities and local governments, as well as aid to essential workers, and a new round of cash payments to individuals. Additional provisions involve PPE reimbursements, the repeal of the requirement to auction public safety spectrum in the T-Band, the use of the Defense Production Act, and clarification related to the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program.
The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the $3 trillion bill on Friday.
The latest attempt at increase pay for first responders
In March, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said hazard pay for first responders could be considered for future legislation to address the COVID-19 national emergency. The announcement stirred considerable debate among fire and EMS personnel.
While lawmakers have proposed multiple bills including hazard pay provisions, none of them made the cut in the first four coronavirus aid packages passed by Congress. However, several local governments have passed their own legislation to provide hazard pay and stipends for first responders and other front-line workers.
The HEROES Act includes several references to “premium pay” for essential workers, specifically noting in Section 170102: “Employers that apply for and receive grants will pay essential workers $13 per hour premium pay on top of regular wages. Essential workers are eligible for up to $10,000 (“highly compensated” essential workers earning above $200,000, up to $5,000) for work performed from January 27, 2020 until 60 days after the last day of the COVID–19 Public Health Emergency.”
Other fire and EMS-focused provisions
The IAFC identified the following HEROES Act provisions that affect the fire and emergency service:
- $500 million for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program for the purchase of PPE and related supplies, mental health evaluations, training and temporary infectious disease decontamination or sanitizing facilities and equipment
- $500 million for the SAFER grant program
- $100 million for the Emergency Management Performance Grants
- Permanent extension of the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act (VRIPA), which exempts any property tax benefit and up to $600 in other state and local benefits from federal taxation
- First responders are permitted to deduct up to $500 from their personal income tax for expenditures on training tuition and uniforms.
- For 2020, first responders and “COVID-19 front-line employees” may include “supplies” and “equipment” in their deductible expenses along with tuition and uniforms.
- Eliminates the limitation on the state and local tax deduction for tax years 2020 and 2021.
- Requires state Medicaid plans to cover non-emergency medical transportation. (This is helpful for fire departments that try to redirect non-emergency patients to non-911 options.)
- Increase reporting requirements for drug manufacturers to disclose when a drug or active ingredient is produced overseas. The bill also provides enforcement authority to the FDA to enforce requirement for companies to provide advance notice of interruption or cancellation of drug lines.
- Directs the National Academies to convene stakeholder groups and a public symposium to assess reliance on foreign drug manufacturing and ways to encourage domestic production of pharmaceuticals.
- Allows medications to be transferred from the Strategic National Stockpile to other federal agencies when they are within 6 months of expiration
- Repeal of the requirement to auction public safety spectrum in the T-Band (470-512 MHz)
- Would make the following supplies considered “scarce and critical materials” under the Defense Production Act: diagnostic tests; PPE, including N95 masks, face shields and masks; ventilators; pharmaceuticals for fighting COVID-19; and other medical equipment
- Clarification that public safety officers that die or become disabled from COVID-19 are eligible for the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program
- Creation of the Heroes Fund, a grant program to allow employers of essential workers (including fire and EMS) to pay $13 per hour premium pay on top of regular wages. Essential workers are eligible for up to $10,000 (“highly compensated” essential workers earning above $200,000, up to $5,000) for work performed from January 27, 2020 until 60 days after the last day of the COVID–19 Public Health Emergency. If an essential worker develops symptoms of COVID-19 and dies, the worker’s next of kin receives the remainder of the premium pay as a lump sum. The bill would allocate $190 billion for this program.
- Removes the exclusion disallowing the paid sick and family leave credits enacted in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FCCRA) for federal, state, and local governments. It makes conforming changes to the definition of qualified wages to align the credit with the intent that the credit covers the leave required by the respective mandates. This provision is effective as if included in FFCRA.
- Requires the President, in coordination with the National Response Coordination Center of FEMA and heads of other federal agencies (as appropriate) to submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report assessing the immediate PPE needs of critical infrastructure industries and workers, including the fire and emergency service.
The IAFC statement concluded with the following call to action: “Because the bill includes important public safety provisions, including additional funding for the AFG and SAFER grant programs; the repeal of the T-Band auction; and the extension of the VRIPA, the IAFC is asking Congress to pass this legislation. Please contact your Representatives and Senators in support of this legislation at IAFC.org/takeaction.”
Read the full IAFC list of provisions here.