Passage of the Zadroga Act was long overdue

Dec 21, 2015
In The News

By Staten Island Advance Editorial Staten Island Advance
on December 21, 2015 at 8:31 AM, updated December 21, 2015 at 8:52 AM

Now the sick and dying heroes of 9/11 are guaranteed to receive U.S. health care for the rest of their lives.

So will other first responders yet to fall ill.

Congress has finally done the right thing, by extending the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, after much too much needless and worrisome delay.

The World Trade Center Health Fund has been extended for an effectively permanent 75 years at a cost of $3.5 billion. Plus five more years have been added to the Victims Compensation Fund at a cost of $4.6 billion.

Rep. Dan Donovan (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) has said there are 6,700 people in his congressional district who benefit from the Zadroga Act.

Along with New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirstin Gillibrand, both Democrats, Mr. Donovan sought and helped to win bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for those who toiled in the toxins at Ground Zero.

"Together, we made sure that no one could take their eyes off this," Mr. Schumer said about lawmakers who were reluctant. "Whenever there was an intransigent  senator or member, we would talk to them."

They deserve our thanks

For coming to the rescue of rescuers, Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand deserve our heartfelt thanks. So, of course, does Mr. Donovan for his efforts.

"This is my proudest day in Washington," said Ms. Gillibrand about the passage of the Zadroga Act as part of $1.1 trillion federal spending package.

Mr. Donovan, who won a special election in May, indicated the first responders who worked on The Pile after 9/11 were on his mind from Day 1.

"I came down here and promised those people I would advocate," said Mr. Donovan, who added his name to the bill on his first day in office.

"This is not just a New York issue and it's not just another program on a line item in the budget," said Mr. Donovan. "It's about helping those who paid a price for helping us in our darkest hour."

For years, there was hesitation and concern in Congress about the cost of the Zadroga Act, much by Republicans in states far from New York City.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which oversees the WTC health program, say more than 70,000 people have enrolled for monitoring.

There are more than 33,000 ailing first responders, including more than 4,000 with 9/11-related cancers. Many others have severe pulmonary diseases.

More than 200 New York City firefighters and police officers have died after responding to the site of the World Trade Center collapse in 2001.

The Zadroga legislation, which first became law in 2010, is named after a police detective who died after working in the poisonous debris at Ground Zero.

Allowed to expire on Oct. 1

The act officially expired on Oct. 1.

New York lawmakers, who aggressively pushed for the 9/11 extension, viewed the spending bill as their last chance before funding runs out in 2016.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control, Tom Frieden, had warned that if the law weren't extended, the World Trade Center Health Program "will begin to face significant operational challenges" by February.

By next summer, the enrolled beneficiaries would have had to have been notified that they may not receive health care beyond September 2016 and the program will start to shut down.

Mr. Frieden said that process obviously could cause additional stress for sick and dying patients.

In recent weeks, many of the 9/11 responders – a lot of them who have become ill – made trips to Washington to lobby to make the health benefits permanent.

Speaking about the impact of those emotional visits to Capitol Hill, Ms. Gillibrand said: "I promise you, nothing ever happens here unless regular people demand it from their leaders."

John Feal, a former World Trade Center demolition worker and leading advocate for sick responders, said he had been to Washington 22 times to lobby for victims of the terror attacks on the Twin Towers.

Too late for some

He said that final extension of the Zadroga Act was a "shallow victory" that came too late for some.

"Too many good people died never knowing if that cloud of uncertainty would ever be removed because Congress continued to play politics with human life," Feal said about extending the Zadroga Act to 2090.

Ms. Gillibrand , lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said: "Our 9/11 first-responders never should have been forced to travel to Washington and walk the halls of Congress — legislation this important shouldn't have needed so much convincing — but after dozens of trips, they finally got the job done and convinced Congress to fulfill its moral obligation to our 9/11 heroes.

"I'm proud to represent them, and I'm grateful for their efforts."

So are those of us on Staten Island, which paid so high a price on 9/11 and thereafter.