9/11 health bill on way to House

After years of bringing attention to and advocating for their health problems, 9/11 first responders, volunteers, workers, and local residents recently won a small but significant victory.

On Tuesday, May 25, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which aims to expand and make permanent existing federal programs that would provide comprehensive health care and compensation for the first responders and survivors sick because of the toxins released by the collapse of the World Trade Center towers after the attacks of September 11.

“The Zadroga Act just cleared its toughest hurdle so far, to the relief of thousands of Americans who lost their health because of 9/11 and desperately need help,” said Congressmember Carolyn Maloney. “We’ve now had three key votes in the House in favor of the bill, and with each one the Zadroga Act has gathered new momentum.”

The Zadroga Act received approval in March from the House Health Subcommittee and from the House Judiciary Committee last July 2009, both with the provision to reopen the federal Victim Compensation Fund.

On the day of the vote, some Republicans argued that the Act would create an entitlement program at a time when the federal government had a deficit.

However, with a 33 to 12 vote in the House Energy and Commerce panel in favor of the legislation, a spokesperson for Maloney told The Queens Courier, “they are hopeful it [the bill] will be voted on by the full House in June”.

In January 2010, the Zadroga Act had been dealt a blow by the Obama administration, which couldn’t guarantee any long-term funding for the victims’ medical monitoring and treatment programs. Instead, the administration offered – in February – to double the 2011 budget to $150 million from the current $70 million allotted for this year. Currently, the medical monitoring and treatment programs are funded through discretionary spending, which needs to be renewed and approved annually by Congress.

“Today we cleared an important hurdle to care for the thousands of New Yorkers who responded to the terrorist attacks of September 11,” said Congressmember Anthony Weiner. “We have a responsibility to care for the heroes who risked their lives on that tragic day and the survivors. We owe it to them to make them whole and keep them well, and that is what this bill does.”

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