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COVID-19 death benefits for first responders advances

In News, State by OC Monitor Staff

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Families of first responders who died due to COVID-19 related complications may soon be eligible for death benefits.

House Bill 56 was approved by the House State Government Committee Thursday and will now head to the House floor for consideration.

Primary sponsor Rep. Thomas Huff, R-Shepherdsville, said that under HB 56, a COVID-19 related death would be considered dying in the line of duty for first responders.

The measure would amend current statute on death benefits to include COVID-19 on the list of illnesses that qualify a deceased first responder’s family for death benefits. If HB 56 becomes law, those families will receive a one-time, lump-sum payment of $80,000.

The statute already defines first responders as police officers, firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, correctional officers and active duty Kentucky National Guard members.

Huff testified that HB 56 is retroactive, meaning any first responders who have died due to COVID-19 complications since March 6, 2020, would qualify.

At Thursday’s committee meeting, Huff asked Zoneton Fire Protection District Chief Kevin Moulton to testify alongside him. Zoneton lost its fire chief and its interim fire chief to COVID-19 related complications within two months of each other in 2021.

“Both were active in the community and very active members of the fire protection district and a great loss to the community,” Moulton said.

During discussion, Rep. Buddy Wheatley, D-Covington, noted that the one-time $80,000 payment under this bill is not part of full line of duty benefits through the pension system.

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, followed up Wheatley’s remarks by pointing out that there are minimal administrative costs associated with HB 56 and that the burden of applying for the benefits would fall on the administrative agency.
“All we’re saying is, rather than the first responder’s family having to make the case, it’s now the administrative agency, and I think that’s appropriate,” Nemes added.

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