Home Illinois Legislative committee’s COVID-19 disability bill for Chicago EMS – Chicago Tribune

Legislative committee’s COVID-19 disability bill for Chicago EMS – Chicago Tribune


SPRINGFIELD — A measure that would make it easier for first responders in Chicago to receive full disability benefits if they contract COVID-19 gained momentum Thursday as it made its way through a state legislative committee.

State Rep. Jay Hoffman, the lead sponsor of the bill in the House, said the measure would automatically presume that the working conditions of Chicago police officers, firefighters and paramedics directly led to contracting COVID-19, which resulted in disability.

Hoffman, a senior Democrat from Swansea, told the House Human Resources and Pensions Committee that “for whatever reason” that provision was not included in the 2020 law that would set rules for receiving compensation for frontline workers after contracting an illness.

“This is unacceptable. It was an oversight. And we’re here to fix that,” Hoffman said.

The bill passed the committee 9-0 and is expected to be debated in the House in the next few weeks. If it passes the full House, it will move to the Senate.

The bill was inspired by the brother of Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, whose brother, Chicago Police Sgt. Joaquin Mendoza contracted COVID-19 and became seriously ill, but the Chicago Police Pension and Benefit Fund denied him full disability benefits.

Mendoza accused the city of setting impossible standards for police officers like her brother to get all the benefits and criticized Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s political appointees to the pension board for their decision. Lightfoot denies having any influence on the council’s decision.

The state law will apply to Chicago police officers, firefighters and paramedics who get sick with the virus starting March 9, 2020. If they were previously denied disability benefits, they could receive “retroactive disability benefits.”

Service disability provides 75% of an officer’s salary and free health insurance. For ordinary disability, the officer receives 50% compensation and has to pay for medical care.

Mendoza said her brother contracted COVID-19 in 2020 — before a vaccine was available — while working 17 consecutive days. He spent 72 days in hospital, suffered from kidney failure, lost the use of his left hand and suffered five strokes.

On Thursday, Mendoza told a House committee that her brother has an ordinary disability, “which basically admits he has a disability, but says that because he couldn’t prove what specific actions as a police officer caused him to contract COVID,” he could not get full duty.

Under the law, the families of police officers who died of COVID-19 between March 9, 2020 and June 30, 2021 were eligible to receive 75% of the officer’s annual salary.

“You should not be punished for life,” Mendoza said. “You should also have access to health care and disability benefits if you survive COVID but can’t return to work.”

Mendoza and Lightfoot held dueling press conferences on the issue a week before Lightfoot lost her Feb. 28 re-election bid. While Mendoza accused Lightfoot of neglecting officers like her brother, the mayor defended the pension board’s 4-3 decision to deny him benefits in 2022. The decision, which included four “no” votes from Lightfoot’s appointees, was also upheld in court after Joaquín Mendoza challenged it.

Mendoza, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2019 against Lightfoot, insisted the timing of her decision to go public with her brother’s story had nothing to do with the mayoral race. Mendoza told a legislative committee Thursday that her brother’s condition is “tragic” and that she couldn’t even talk about it before without crying.

“But I hope that through that tragedy,” Mendoza said, pausing for a moment before her voice cracked with emotion, “we can make it right for everyone else.”



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