Tester Demands Better Protection for Montana’s First Responders

Requests more support, protection for first responders in next coronavirus relief bill

U.S. Senator Jon Tester is fighting to make sure Montana’s first responders are protected as they continue responding to the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a bipartisan letter to Senate leadership, Tester called for the Senate’s next coronavirus relief bill to increase emergency funding for critical programs that firefighters, police officers, and first responders rely on to buy personal protective equipment (PPE), provide additional benefits to those on the front lines of the public health crisis, and cut red tape to get funding out the door more quickly.

“As Congress considers further legislation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge you to include additional support for our nation’s first responders who work in some of the highest risk occupations for COVID-19 exposure,” wrote Tester and his colleagues. “First responders are routinely in physical contact with potentially infected persons and are facing unprecedented volumes of dispatch calls in severely impacted areas.”

Specifically, Tester and his colleagues requested increased funding for Assistance to Firefighter (AFG) grants, Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants, the Byrne JAG program, and the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program to help first responders access resources to purchase and be reimbursed for PPE and other COVID-19 related expenses, recruit and retain employees and volunteers, and cover overtime, backfill costs, authorized hazard pay, and COVID-19-related paid sick leave during the crisis.

“During a time of crisis, communities rely on local first responders as the first line of defense for protection and emergency response,” Tester and his colleagues continued. “As you continue to develop further legislation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge you to include the above items so that our nation’s first responders can operate at full capacity as we fight the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Tester has led the fight to ensure Montana’s first responders get the support they need to help win the fight against the pandemic. Last week, the Senate unanimously passed his bill to make it easier for first responders who are disabled or die as a result of COVID-19 to receive benefits through the Public Safety Officers Benefit Program, and late last month he successfully pushed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to open up $100 million of appropriated funding for first responders to purchase PPE and other supplies to address COVID-19. Tester successfully secured the $100 million in FEMA Assistance for Firefighters Grant program funding as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. He also recently secured nearly $5 million for Montana law enforcement to help combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Tester’s letter is available HERE.