House unanimously passes Comptroller Mendoza’s bill to cover first responders severely stricken by COVID

Thursday, March 23, 2023

SPRINGFIELD—Democratic and Republican members of The Illinois House of Representatives voted 112-0 Thursday for Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza’s Act of Duty bill to provide duty-disability benefits for Chicago first responders severely stricken by COVID-19 in the days before vaccines were available. 

The bill now moves to the State Senate, where State Sen. Bill Cunningham is the chief sponsor. 

"Our police officers and firefighters put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities, often sacrificing their own safety to ensure the safety of others,” said Cunningham, a Democrat who represents portions of Chicago and the Southwest Suburbs. “As we’ve learned, this legislation is simply the right thing to do for the emergency first responder community and I look forward to sponsoring the bill in the Senate.” 

Officers killed by COVID-19 in the days before vaccines were available are considered to have died in an “Act of Duty” under state law, so their families get full benefits. But the city of Chicago’s police pension board has been denying Act of Duty benefits to officers including Comptroller Mendoza’s brother, Chicago Police Det. Sgt. Joaquin Mendoza, who lived through the disease but were left severely disabled. 

“I am so grateful to Leader Hoffman and all the legislators in the House who see what an injustice this is for our men and women who served on the front lines in those dangerous days when COVID ran rampant and there was no vaccine,” Comptroller Mendoza said. “I hope all state senators will likewise rise to the occasion. Our officers and first responders should not be worth more dead than alive.” 

Mendoza’s bill, HB3162, would fix state law to include that same “rebuttable presumption” of the illness being contracted by first responders in an act of duty for officers who lived through COVID as those who died.   

“This is a needed measure that underscores our values here in Illinois, and of the need to properly support our first responders who have sacrificed so much for us,” state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, said. “I am appreciative of the Comptroller’s advocacy on this topic and the bipartisan support this proposal has received from all corners of the state.”    

Comptroller Mendoza’s brother worked for 17 days straight before falling ill with COVID-19 in 2020. His ICU stay resulted in the loss of both of his kidneys, and he suffered five strokes. Even the pension board’s own physician said it was clear Det. Sgt. Mendoza would never be able to work again and that it was more likely than not he was stricken on the job. 

Chicago Police Officer Diana Cordova-Nestad described at a news conference at Chicago’s City Hall how COVID-19 had left her severely disabled after she contracted the virus on the job. The Policeman’s Annuity and Benefits Fund first denied Det. Sgt. Mendoza, then Officer Cordova-Nestad. Another 18 officers with similar situations are in the pipeline, according to lawyers who represent these officers before the board. They would all be helped by this legislation.