By Bill Parry
Flushing resident Patricia Workman said she is relieved now that Congress has reached a bipartisan agreement Tuesday that will renew the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act and attached it to the must-pass ominous spending bill. The measure would extend the World Trade Center Health Program for 75 years with $3.5 billion in funding to monitor and care for nearly 73,000 9/11 first responders and survivors who suffer illnesses from breathing in the toxic air at Ground Zero.
More than 4,000 have been found to have 9/11-related cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Workman is among them.
“I am absolutely thrilled to death that they found a way,” she said. “Seventy-five years? That should help a great deal. That should do it for most of us.”
Workman, 77, went to work as a volunteer for the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the Port Authority caring for workers who came off the pile week after week. She recalls white powder on every building and ever floor.
“Nobody wore masks because the feds said the air was safe,” she said. In 2007 her bones began to break and she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. The World Center Trade Health Program funded stem cell replacement and she was cancer free for five years until a recent relapse.
“I get together with others in the program quite frequently and many were starting to wonder if the extension was going to happen,” Workman said. “Which is hard to believe when you’ve been through what we’ve been through.”
Workman was among the 9/11 first responders and survivors who rallied at Ground Zero on several occasions. Retired police officers and firefighters boarded buses for the trip to Washington to personally lobby for the extension and permanent funding of the Zadroga Act. The breakthrough finally happened Tuesday night.
“It’s in writing. The deal is done,” U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) said. “Never again will survivors and responders be forced to walk the halls of Congress, begging for their health care. Never again will they lose sleep over fear that their life-saving program will run out.”
Maloney, who introduced the original bill 11 years ago, would frequently point out that the nation could not allow the program to run out because enrollees currently live in all 50 states and in 433 of the 435 Congressional districts.
“We will never fully repay the sacrifices our first responders made following Sept. 11th,” Maloney said. “All they ask of us is that we never forget – and Congress is now sending a clear message back: We haven’t.”
The other program in the Zadroga Act, the Victim’s Compensation Fund, was renewed for another five years.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the lead sponsor of the legislation in the Senate, regretted that 9/11 first responders had to make dozens of trips to the Capitol to get the extension.
“This agreement is incredible news for our 9/11 heroes and their families,” she said. “And it is a testament to the extraordinary power that Americans can have when they raise their voice and demand action.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr