Signed by Gov. JB Pritzker this week passed a law that would provide full disability benefits to Chicago police officers and firefighters who were stricken with COVID-19 before vaccines were available, presided over an emotional ceremony in statehouse marking the end of a financial struggle for responders including the brother of Comptroller Susana Mendoza.
The Act-of-Duty law, HB3162, ensures disability benefits of 75% of salary and health insurance for anyone unable to work after contracting the coronavirus from March 9, 2020, when the outbreak intensified in Illinois , until June 30, 2021 . The law gives them the presumption that they took the illness at work.
Pritzker said that after the arrival of COVID-19 in early 2020, police, firefighters and medical personnel are both a line of defense and a lifeline.
“Our first responders are the key to our national response, transporting infected patients to hospitals, disbursing masks and test kits or caring for those in distress…,” said said Pritzker. “But despite social distancing, masks and area mitigation, many of our first responders have been infected with COVID-19.”
Mendoza’s brother, 58-year-old policeman Det. Joaquin Mendoza, a veteran officer who works the midnight shift. Having no spouse or children, the comptroller said that he only focused on work. In November 2020, when the city canceled days off, he worked 17 days in a row, woke up one morning coughing and two days later was rushed to the hospital with COVID-19 .
He lived with his sister and her family and since then, he had a stroke and lost two kidneys, which required three weeks of dialysis. But the Policeman’s Annuity and Benefit Fund in Chicago denied his claim for total disability because there was no evidence he contracted the virus on the job. The board also denied Officer Diana Cordova-Nestad.
“It was the scariest experience…,” Mendoza said. “I don’t want any police officers to feel that all they can do is recognize that they are worth more dead than alive and decide to take a bullet because they don’t want to face it. … I know it sounds dramatic, but it’s true.”
Mendoza said he knows about 20 others who could benefit from the law – after his brother and Cordova-Nestad were denied, no one else sought benefits.
“It’s a small universe… so you’re not talking about opening the floodgates,” he said.
Joaquin Mendoza was supposed to attend the bill signing but was operated on again on Tuesday and remains hospitalized.
“He told me that maybe it had to happen… because he was the only one with a brother who knew how to navigate this crazy system and could right the wrongs for the brothers in the force ,” said the administrator.
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