NYPD commissioner lobbies for permanent 9/11 first responders health bill
Calling it the “ultimate irony,” New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton lobbied Congress for 9/11 first responders’ health benefits as lawmakers held hearings on terrorism. A deal is promised, but advocates ask only for action.
"It just defies logic,” Bratton told the Associated Press, standing in a Senate building rotunda, where walls were decorated with evocative imagery of 9/11 first responders.
September 11 first responders recently saw their benefits expire, and federal officials warn the fund will go broke in February and shut down in the summer if no action is taken. Benefits were first bestowed in 2010 by the Zadroga Act, named in honor of James Zadroga, the first NYPD police officer to die of dust inhalation at the Ground Zero site in lower Manhattan.
An extension of the benefits covering over 70,000 people is priced at over $8 billion. Some 40,000 people enrolled in the program managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have cancer.
Sixty-six votes in the Senate and 266 in the House are reportedly lined up and ready to go, but they won’t be cast until at least next week, when Congressional leaders say they’ll attach the funding to an omnibus spending bill. Yet a separate bundle of tax break legislation may also be where the funding ultimately ends up.
In a meeting between House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and fellow Republicans on Thursday, Ryan reassured them, saying, "you guys in the Northeast worried about the 9/11 package, that's going to be taken care of."
Democrats are cautiously optimistic. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) told AP, "It's not done until it's done."
Maloney said the bill covers $3.5 billion in medical monitoring and treatment costs for first responders, while attack victims will be compensated from a $4.6 billion fund. The expiration date for health benefits is 2090, practically life-long for those affected, while the victims’ fund would expire in 2021.
In related news, comedian Jon Stewart returned to The Daily Show on Comedy Central this week to encourage the public to pressure Rep. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) using hashtag #WorstResponders on social media.