A pair of U.S. Congress members who represent Western New York want the federal government to approve hazard pay for border patrol workers.
Following last week's ban on "non-essential" travel at both the Canadian and Mexican borders, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, D-New York, and U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Niagara Falls and Buffalo, urged the acting secretary for the Department of Homeland Security to designate U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers as employees working under hazard, given the severe spread of COVID-19 in New York. Schumer and Higgins said that the designation is essential, because it would allow border patrol officers to receive hazard pay, providing financial insulation in the event that they or their family members are infected.
“CBP officers risk their own health, and the health of their families, to continue serving their country during a global pandemic, and they deserve better,” Schumer said. “These officers are essential to the security of the U.S. and have shown up to serve, even in the midst of a crisis. They deserve better pay in these circumstances, especially because they come into such close contact with cross-border traffic on a daily basis.”
Higgins said about 480 CBP officers staff land ports of entry in Western New York, enabling for the necessary flow of commerce, supplies and emergency personnel crossings, while putting their own health and safety at risk.
"Guidance dictates hazard pay for CBP officers and their response to the COVID-19 national emergency certainly warrants it," Higgins said.
Schumer and Higgins said CBP officers qualify for hazard pay under federal guidelines based on two criteria. First, they noted that the circumstances of the specific hazard or physical hardship have changed from that taken into account and described in the position description. In addition, they said COVID-19 represents a "hazard or physical hardship" the employees cannot control.
In light of the domestic spread of the virus, Schumer and Higgins said that not only are the current circumstances of a global pandemic far outside of what is expected for CBP officers, but also that they are unable to control their risk of exposure, leading to a perfect case to allocate hazard pay.
Schumer and Higgins expressed their position on the matter in a letter sent on Tuesday to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.
"The presence of Covid-19 and the increased risk of infection to CBP personnel should, at the very least, entitle them to an increase in pay until the crisis has abated," their letter reads.