New York Governor Cuomo Says State Will Pay Benefits to Families of Essential Workers Who Died During Pandemic

Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday that New York state and local governments will pay death benefits to the families of all essential workers in the state who died while battling the coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement was made during a Memorial Day news briefing on board the U.S.S. Intrepid at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan. During the briefing, Cuomo compared the frontline workers who have continued going to work during the pandemic with those who are asked to go into battle during wartime.

"I feel a grave responsibility to our frontline workers, our essential workers, who understood the dangers of this COVID virus but went to work anyway because we needed them," the governor said. "I bare heavy the responsibility of explaining to the people of this state and beyond what we were dealing with when we were dealing with the COVID virus and how dangerous it was—and then, in the same breath, asking people to please show up tomorrow."

Governor Andrew Cuomo
In this screengrab, Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo and Michaela Cuomo speak at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum’s virtual Memorial Day commemoration ceremony on May 25, 2020 in New York City. Getty Images/Getty Images for Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

Local, county and state pension funds will pay for the benefits, Cuomo said. Qualifying families include those who had a family member who was classified as essential—including health care workers, police officers, firefighters, EMS employees, grocery store workers and others on the state and federal essential workers lists—during the pandemic and died after contracting the virus, he said.

"Many of those people who showed up and did their duty and served with honor lost their lives to keep others safe," Cuomo said. "We're saying we honor that service and we're going to make sure that every government in the state of New York provides death benefits to those public heroes who died from COVID-19 during this emergency."

The governor did not provide specific details regarding what the death benefits will include or when they will be distributed. Newsweek reached out to Cuomo's office for comment and will update this article with a response.

New York quickly became the state that was hit hardest by the pandemic as the virus began spreading across the U.S. By Monday, the New York State Department of Health had reported 362,764 positive cases and 23,488 deaths. While Cuomo said in mid-April the state was beginning to flatten its COVID-19 curve, health officials still reported high numbers of daily death rates through May, with New York finally reporting its first day of fewer than 100 COVID-19 deaths since March on May 23.

After announcing the decision for the state to fund death benefits, Cuomo called on the federal government to do the same. "I think the federal government should dedicate federal funds and pay hazard pay to those workers who showed up," he said. "It's a way of showing Americans that, when there is a next time—and there is a next time—that we truly appreciate those people who show up and do their duty."

The White House did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment in time for publication.