Jon Stewart will lobby to renew 9/11 health programs
WASHINGTON — Comedian Jon Stewart will help lobby Congress next week to continue a program that monitors thousands of people for health problems related to their work at Ground Zero, the senator leading the lobbying effort said Tuesday.
The World Trade Center Health Program, which monitors 33,000 people for 9/11-related illnesses, is set to expire at the end of the month, just over two weeks after the 14th anniversary of the attacks.
Stewart, former host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, will join Ground Zero first responders making the rounds on Capitol Hill and "will help them amplify their voices" in promoting the need to renew the program, according to Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said. Stewart could not be reached for comment.
Eligibility for another Ground Zero-related program, the September 11 Victims Compensation Fund, ends in October next year. People who develop Ground Zero-related cancer or other illnesses after that won't be eligible to apply for compensation from the fund.
Both programs are part of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act, which Gillibrand and other lawmakers want to make permanent.
There's enough money left in the World Trade Center Health Program to keep health care centers running for several months, "but you don't want to get too close to the deadline when they have to start sending out notices," said Gillibrand, who is leading the congressional effort with Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of Manhattan.
Getting Senate and House floor consideration will be difficult. The congressional calendar is filled with votes on the Iran nuclear agreement and fiscal 2016 funding for federal programs.
Lawmakers who back extending the Ground Zero programs are counting on first responders and 9/11 survivors — and Stewart — to walk the halls of Congress next week to raise awareness.
"Are we going to tell the first responders there is an expiration date on the value of their lives?'' asked Robert Reeg of Stony Point, N.Y., a 63-year-old retired New York City firefighter who was hit in the back and head by debris at Ground Zero. "I think we owe it to the first responders and the follow-up crews from the power companies and iron workers that we are going to have their backs.''
Retired New York City police officer Edwin Rivera, 59, of Wappingers Falls, N.Y., helped with the Ground Zero cleanup and developed cancer of the nasal pharynx.
"They have helped with my medical bills,'' Rivera said of the World Trade Center Health Program. "The World Trade Center medical group has been absolutely great.''
Rivera's cancer is in remission, but he still has an obstructed airway, suffers from neck spasms, and his ears sometimes bleed.
People who were working at the World Trade Center when the Twin Towers fell also are covered by the health programs in the James Zadroga 9/11 Act.
Susan Herr, who was working for Morgan Stanley on the 68th floor of Tower 2 on the day of the attacks, developed 9/11-related cancer of the anus.
"The World Trade Center clinics are the people who know what to do,'' said Herr, 59, who lives in rural Sullivan County, N.Y. and books travel for sports teams at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. "Every month the cancers are updated and they know what to look for.''
Herr said some of her former coworkers who survived the attacks are now dying of 9/11-related illnesses.
"I consider myself one of the lucky ones because I'm still able to work, whereas I have a friend who carries an oxygen tank,'' she said