SPRINGFIELD–Democratic and Republican members of the Illinois State Senate’s Special Committee on Pensions voted 9-0 Thursday to approve Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza’s Act-of-Duty bill to cover Chicago first responders severely stricken by COVID-19 in the days before vaccines were available.
Comptroller Mendoza’s brother, Chicago Police Det. Sgt. Joaquin Mendoza, was the first case to go before the city’s police disability board, which appears to have adopted a policy of not giving disability pensions to officers disabled by COVID.
“I watched in disbelief as the board’s majority inexplicably ruled against their own doctor’s findings and gave my brother only an Ordinary Disability benefit instead of a Duty Disability benefit, which means he’d only get 50% of his salary for five years and no health care insurance,” Comptroller Mendoza said.
Det. Sgt. Mendoza lost his kidneys, had five strokes and was left permanently disabled by COVID, the board’s doctor found.
State Sen. Bill Cunningham, D, Chicago, and State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D, Swansea, passed legislation during the height of the pandemic to ensure the state’s workers’ compensation law accounted for first responders who contracted COVID-19. It offered a “rebuttable presumption” that those who fell ill contracted the virus on the job.
However, as Sen. Cunningham explained to the committee, the measure did not cover first responders in Chicago. “They are not a part of the state Workers’ Comp system. They have a separate disability system so those protections are not afforded to Chicago police officers and firefighters,” said Sen. Cunningham.
Ironically, Chicago Police Department officers killed by COVID in the days before vaccines were widely available are considered to have died in an “Act of Duty” under state law, so their families get full benefits. HB 3162 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.
"Frankly, cops shouldn’t have to die to be eligible for their benefits,” Comptroller Mendoza said. “And they shouldn’t have to spend thousands of dollars they don’t have, fighting the Pension Fund or court of appeals when their cases are legitimate.”
The measure has already passed the full House with a unanimous vote there. It now moves on to a vote by the full Senate.
“I want to thank you for all the support and the prayers that you’ve extended to my family. But know that it’s much more than just me and my family,” Comptroller Mendoza told the committee. “My brother's greatest wish is that all the other officers and firefighters to come after him won’t have to go through what he has.”
Video of today’s hearing is available via blueroomstream.com.