SEPTA is eyeing a way to help families of employees who have died or been severely impacted by COVID-19, the transit authority announced Monday.
The “SEPTA Disaster Relief Memorial Fund” is made possible through a $10,000 donation by the Delaware Valley Regional Economic Fund with further contributions to be made through Philadelphia Foundation. With anxiety mounting over the potential for another wave of cases, the fund intends to assist those impacted through December 2021.
Seven SEPTA employees — Ted Nixon, Michael Holt, Phil Williams, Yolanda Woodberry, Terrance Burton, Michael Hill, and Steve McFadden — have died of coronavirus complications. The authority has had more than 300 confirmed employee coronavirus cases, and about 240 people have since returned to work. The authority has about 9,500 workers.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have heard from employees who have asked how they can help the families of their coworkers,” SEPTA General Manager Leslie S. Richards said in a statement. “Our goal with this fund was to create a meaningful way for them to provide support to the families of their friends and colleagues who have died or suffered severe health impacts as a result of COVID-19-related illnesses.”
An independent committee of employees is to advise on distribution. Specifics, such as how many there will be and who will be selected, have yet to be determined, SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch said.
SEPTA has not granted hazard pay to workers or death benefits as a result of COVID-19, two measures requested by Transport Workers Union Local 234, which represents thousands of employees, including drivers and operators.
“It’s not that this is being put forward” in place of hazard pay, Busch said. “Even if there was something for employees, whether it was hazard pay or a death benefit, we still wanted to move forward on this because it’s something that employees expressed interest in.”
SEPTA offers temperature screening and has partnered with the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium to provide coronavirus testing. The authority began requiring face coverings in June, though not all are complying with policy.
Masks will grow more important in preventing the spread of the coronavirus as ridership grows on SEPTA.
Anyone can contribute to the fund. A minimum $25 donation amount is listed on Philadelphia Foundation’s website. Checks also can be made out to Philadelphia Foundation and sent to it at Box 826728, Philadelphia 19182-6728. The memo line must include “SEPTA Disaster Relief Fund.”