Don’t Let the Aid for 9/11 Responders Expire
In a positive signal from Congress, bipartisan majorities in both houses are on record as approving permanent renewal and financing of the emergency health care and compensation programs needed by thousands of first responders to the 9/11 attacks who are suffering illnesses as a result of their labors at the devastated sites.
Unfortunately, just as this filibuster-proof momentum gathers force, two House committees have made moves to crimp the programs with lower funding and an extension of only five years, despite a strong majority view that the programs should not have an end date.
With more than 33,000 responders and volunteers already being treated for a range of cancers and other diseases, and more expected to need treatment in the future, this makes no sense. The compensation, medical care and monitoring programs that are embodied in what is known as the Zadroga Act need permanent standing, the same as federal programs serving victims of black lung disease and of radiation sickness from nuclear plant work.
The responder programs, which were narrowly approved in a 2010 compromise that gave them a five-year life, have been a success and have reflected well on the nation’s willingness to honor the sacrifices of tens of thousands of responders and volunteers who came from virtually all of the nation’s congressional districts to pitch in at the cleanups. Early assurances from the government that their work entailed low risks have been sadly disproved. Severe illnesses have developed, including 3,700 cancers attributed to toxic substances at the sites.
More than 6,000 victims and their families have been awarded compensation for illnesses. But program administrators warn that compensation payments could be severely reduced if the two House committees have their way. The House Judiciary Committee would cut the funding level for disabled responders without holding a public hearing on the implications of such a cut. The Energy and Commerce Committee would limit the program to five more years.
Both moves should be soundly rejected as the budgeting process proceeds toward a December deadline. More than 240 members are on record as supporting a permanent, properly funded Zadroga Act. The new House speaker, Paul Ryan, has a timely opportunity here to smooth the way for a measure of national honor that delivers on the spirit of bipartisanship he promised in assuming the gavel.