Congress passes bill to extend health coverage for 9/11 responders
Emergency workers who responded to the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11 will have their health coverage extended as part of a $1.1tn government spending bill passed by Congress on Tuesday.
The renewal of the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act covers for the next 75 years first responders who became sick after working at Ground Zero and reopens the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund for the next five years.
The legislation’s renewal represents a significant victory for the New York Congressional delegation, who with first responders and former Daily Show host Jon Stewart lobbied hard for the Zadroga Act’s renewal.
“I’m humbled to be in the presence of first responders … I lived in downtown Manhattan and remember that day and the months following [9/11] and the debt we owe to the first responders who brought stability and comfort and peace of mind to a very shaken city, and a very shaken country, and a very shaken people,” Stewart said on Tuesday night, according to NBC News.
“I want to congratulate them for their grace,” said Stewart, about first responders who helped lobby congressional leaders for inclusion of the bill. “They have borne this burden with integrity. They ask only for what they need. And I want to congratulate them for getting through these press conferences and meetings, because, oh my God.”
The Zadroga Act expired on 1 October, though it was funded through the end of the year. First responders made multiple trips to Washington to lobby leaders to pass the bill. Some House and Senate Republicans had opposed the program because of its cost, and because they hoped to periodically renew the program, according to the Associated Press.
The New York Congressional delegation called the latest renewal “effectively permanent”. The program is expected to cost $7bn over 75 years.
Stewart went so far as to publicly shame Congressional leaders at his former post, on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. He called Senate majority leader Republican Mitch McConnell “an enormous obstacle, unwilling to move the bill forward for purely political reasons”.
“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,” said Democratic New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand in a joint news release Wednesday morning. “But after dozens of trips, they finally got the job done and convinced Congress to fulfill its moral obligation to our 9/11 heroes.”
The program was first introduced in 2010 by another member of the New York Congressional delegation, Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney. The bill was signed into law in 2011 and is named after James Zadroga, a New York Police Department homicide detective who died in 2006. Medical examiners believe Zadroga’s death was caused by breathing dust following the attacks on the World Trade Center, causing the 34-year-old to die of degenerative lung disease.
Until the Zadroga Act was passed, first responders’ illnesses caused by 9/11 often were not covered by private insurance because they were considered on-the-job injuries, the New York City health department said.
Zadroga’s father, Joe Zadroga, said at a recent press event that his son’s medical expenses were so high that the family ate pasta with sauce and butter for two weeks before telling the father they were running out of money, according to the New York Daily News.
“Upon his grave, I made a promise that we would tell his story of what happened,” Joe Zadroga said, according to reports. “I don’t want to see other first responders going through what my son and his family went through.”