COVID-19 has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths across New York State. Sadly, the pandemic’s victims include NYSLRS members who carried out their essential duties despite personal risk.
The families of these members can take some comfort in knowing that if their loved one contracts COVID-19 while on the job, they may be eligible for an enhanced death benefit if their loved one dies as a result.
The COVID-19 Accidental Death Benefit
Most NYSLRS members’ beneficiaries are eligible for a death benefit if they die while in service. This “ordinary death benefit” provides a member’s designated beneficiary or beneficiaries a single, lump sum payment, worth up to three years’ salary.
For public employees who contract COVID-19 on the job and die from COVID-19, an accidental death benefit may be paid instead of the ordinary death benefit.
The NYSLRS accidental death benefit is a monthly pension benefit — not a one-time payment — paid to a surviving spouse for life. If there is no surviving spouse, the benefit can be paid to dependent children until a certain age, or if there are none, then to a dependent parent for life. Generally, the accidental death benefit is equal to 50 percent of the member’s final average earnings or last year’s salary depending on the retirement plan the member is enrolled in. (Visit our website for help finding your retirement plan publication.)
In addition to the accidental death benefit, a special accidental death benefit may also be payable to survivors of a member of the New York State and Local Police and Fire Retirement System.
A NYSLRS member’s statutory beneficiary would be eligible for the accidental death benefit if the member:
- Worked at either their normal workplace or another assigned workplace, not their residence, as directed by their employer, on or after March 1, 2020;
- Contracted COVID-19 within 45 days of the last day that the member reported for work;
- Died on or before December 31, 2024; and
- Died from COVID-19 or COVID-19 caused or contributed to their death.
The COVID-19 benefit is available for all NYSLRS members (Employees’ Retirement System and Police and Fire Retirement System), regardless of job title or tier.
How to Claim the Benefit
When someone calls NYSLRS to report a death, they should let us know it was COVID-related. We’ll also ask for an original death certificate. We will then reach out to the beneficiary to assist them in claiming the benefit. For the COVID-19 death benefit, NYSLRS will confirm with the employer the dates that the member reported to work and request the required documentation showing COVID-19 as the cause of death. The COVID-19 death benefit will be reduced by any ordinary death benefits paid out to a beneficiary by NYSLRS.