cunningham 050523SPRINGFIELD – State Senator Bill Cunningham advanced legislation that ensures Chicago police officers, firefighters and paramedics who contracted COVID-19 while on the job will receive the disability benefits they earned.

“Chicago first responders are entitled to the exact same health and safety protections that were provided to other essential workers during the pandemic,” said Cunningham, a Democrat who represents portions of Chicago and the Southwest Suburbs. "If the Chicago police and fire pension funds are going to claim a legal technicality to refuse to protect our first responders, then the state legislature will have to step in to put protections in place. That is exactly what House Bill 3162 does — it requires the Chicago pension funds to grant the same COVID-19 presumption that all other workers receive.”

As a result of this presumption, affected police officers and firefighters would be entitled to 75% of their salary at the time of disability and duty disability benefits, instead of the current 50% under ordinary disability benefits. The legislation applies retroactively, providing relief to those who were denied full duty disability benefits after contracting COVID-19 while on the job.

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza has been leading the fight for passage of House Bill 3162. Her brother was denied full duty disability benefits after contracting COVID-19 while working 17 straight days before a vaccine was available in November 2020. Police Sergeant Joaquin Mendoza spent 72 days in the hospital, suffered kidney failure, had five strokes, and lost the use of his left arm. If he had been granted full duty disability, he would have received 75% of his salary and health insurance. His claim was denied and he was instead granted 50% of his salary for no more than four years, regardless of injury, and had his health insurance canceled.

“There are a few dozen officers and firefighters like Sgt. Mendoza who contracted COVID-19 on the job and have been unable to return to work because of the extent of their injuries,” Cunningham said. “House Bill 3162 will ensure they will be able to pay their bills, support their families, and keep their health insurance.”

House Bill 3162 passed the Senate on Friday and heads to the governor’s desk for final approval.