By Bill Parry
9/11 first responders and survivors once again made the trip to Ground Zero Monday to join U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) and other congressional leaders to rally in support of a permanent and fully funded Zadroga Health and Compensation Act extension.
Speaker after speaker voiced their objection to new proposals by House Republicans that would make 60 percent cuts to health care and compensation and only temporarily extend the World Trade Center Health program for five years.
“The cancers suffered by 9/11 responders aren’t five-year cancers,” said Maloney, who introduced the reauthorization. “Five years of health care won’t do. It should be permanent and fully funded. We must continue providing high-quality health care to the heroes and heroines of 9/11. And we must provide the full compensation we promised. We cannot tell those who have already lost so much that the compensation they were promised will be cut by more than half.”
Maloney’s bill to fully fund and permanently extend the health and compensation program has broad, bipartisan report, with 241 House co-sponsors, a clear majority. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said the bill has 61 Senate co-sponsors, a filibuster-proof majority.
“These House committee proposals fall woefully short and were introduced without even consulting the first responders, their families or advocates who have worked on this issue for years,” Gillibrand said. “This was an irresponsible move that will cause unnecessary consternation for thousands of first responders and their families who are already suffering.”
The World Trade Center Health Program authorization expired at the end of September, but it is still funded through next year. In the meantime, the program is in the process of shutting down, creating anxiety for those in treatment for cancers and other ailments they are suffering from inhaling toxic air at Ground Zero following the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Victim Compensation Fund, also authorized for five years by the 2010 Zadroga Act, will shut down Oct. 3, 2016 and will not be able to fully compensate 9/11 responders and survivors unless Congress extends the program and fully funds it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control 4,166 first responders have a 9/11-related cancer. More than 85 NYPD members and 131 FDNY personnel have reportedly died from their 9/11 illnesses, but it is not just a New York problem, lawmakers say.
Enrollees in the WTC Health Program live in all 50 states, in 429 of the 435 congressional districts. More than 72,000 responders and survivors receive medical monitoring under the program.
“The Zadroga Act must be permanent and fully funded so that these brave men and women never again have to beg Congress for the care and compensation they need and deserve,” Maloney said.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr