EDITORIAL: Congress must approve Zadroga Act to care for 9/11 responders
The poor treatment of 9/11 first responders started before the toxic dust had settled, with federal officials declaring the air safe to breathe and the mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, putting progress with the cleanup ahead of worker safety.
No one in charge insisted the job get done right, just that it get done.
Hundreds of rescue workers gave their lives responding to the attack, but no one protected the thousands more who continued the effort after the towers fell.
Fourteen years later, many of the rescuers who survived the attack have not survived the host of cancers and other afflictions caused by the exposure of their skin, eyes and lungs to the toxic dust.
Many more are still alive but suffering.
Congress has promised to help these heroes, but the Republican leadership, led by Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, recently reneged on a pledge to include funding for renewal of the Zadroga Act in a broad transportation bill.
The Zadroga Act, named after a NYC police detective who died from respiratory disease linked to exposure at Ground Zero, provided funding for screening and treatment of 9/11 first responders, starting in 2010. But the act will expire next spring.
Advocates for the first responders — which, in 2001, would have included every single member of Congress, including Mr. McConnell — want to make the funding permanent, in the same way that Vietnam veterans suffering from Agent Orange exposure never lose their eligibility for benefits.
It appears now, perhaps because of the public shaming of McConnell and other politicians by advocates like Jon Stewart, that the Zadroga Act will be funded as part of a larger omnibus spending bill now being put together in Congress.
Stewart, formerly the host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, has long been passionate about this cause. It’s unfortunate that it takes advocacy from a popular comedian to get this bill passed, but at least someone is providing Congress with moral leadership.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has pledged to pay for the bill.
It will be expensive, but it will not cost the country as much to help these men and women as it cost their families when they ran without hesitation into the hell of Ground Zero.
No matter how great the cost of their treatment, it cannot be as great as the benefit to our society of having people willing to rush into burning towers in imminent danger of collapse.
The casualty rate of the 9/11 responders was horrendously high. Seventy-one cops and 343 firefighters died at Ground Zero the day of the attack. Since then, many hundreds more first responders have died and thousands have been diagnosed with cancers and respiratory ailments linked to their work at the site.
So even if it costs the country billions to treat the 9/11 first responders, that cannot compare to the personal cost they must bear.
If we fail to help our heroic public servants, as we have too often failed to help our returning military veterans, then how can we expect men and women to continue to show up for these critical jobs and risk their lives?
We need these people, so it is in our best interest to help them when they need us. More than that, it’s the right thing to do. Congress must honor its promises to renew the Zadroga Act.