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New Bedford officials debate extended COVID-related death benefits

Target 12

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — A New Bedford city council proposal that would make all COVID-associated deaths of city employees a work-related fatality, is being met with resistance by Mayor Jon Mitchell.

Last month, the city council unanimously passed a petition that would make COVID deaths presumptive as a line-of-duty death. The designation would trigger extended benefits for family members, including a one-time $300,000 payment and 100% pension benefits for public safety workers.

“I’m not sure in every instance when an employee catches COVID that that may be appropriate especially if there is no connection to the workplace,” Mitchell said on a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers.

On Sept. 1, Mitchell sent a letter to the council seeking to modify the proposal, including denying the presumption if the employee who died was not vaccinated.

“When someone dies in the line of duty there is a certain reverence that we appropriately attach to their service,” Mitchell said. “I’m not sure in every instance when an employee catches covid that that may be appropriate.”

Mitchell is also seeking to add a rebuttable presumption to the ordinance, that would deny the benefits if the individual did not catch the virus at work.

“The reality is that most people who have contracted it have done so through familial transmission or through social transmission,” he said.

The mayor’s proposed changes were met coldly by several members of the city council, according to the New Bedford Standard Times. A city clerk tells Target 12 the proposal was tabled pending negotiations between the council and city attorneys.

“We’ve had many city employees as many city’s have who have gone out in the pandemic and done their jobs despite the risks,” Mitchell said. “There may be a way to thread the needle to enable the families of those who have been lost to make sure that they’re taken care of without opening the door to enormous expense to the city.”

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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