Officials Rally for an Extension of a 9/11 Health Bill

Dec 6, 2015
In The News

Standing in the shadow of the towering rebuilt World Trade Center, scores of firefighters and police officers, led by Mayor Bill de Blasio and two United States senators from New York, rallied on Sunday to press Congress to extend a 9/11 health bill.

The bill would pay for medical care for emergency medical workers and others, including police officers, firefighters and construction workers who risked their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, or in the weeks and months after to recover bodies and begin the cleanup. They were exposed to toxic chemicals that have sickened or killed many of them.

The bill would extend the World Trade Center Health Program, which is part of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The program expired on Oct. 1; another part of the act, the Victim Compensation Fund, is set to expire next October.

“We have been on the cusp of passing this bill for weeks and months,” said Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, who was joined at the rally by Senator Chuck Schumer, a fellow Democrat. “But somehow it hasn’t gotten done. It isn’t a controversial issue.”

Lawmakers, city officials and advocates say the bill, which has broad bipartisan support, must emerge from a few important congressional committees, where some Republicans have tried to water it down. It was meant to be voted on with a transportation bill recently, but it was removed at the last minute. In order to pass before the end of the year, it must be voted on as part of the omnibus spending bill or be attached to a tax-extending bill.

Representative Carolyn B. Maloney of New York City, another Democrat who was at the rally, said about 1,700 people had died from 9/11-related illnesses, more than 4,000 had received cancer diagnoses and more than 30,000 were sick. At the rally, 9-year-old Jack McNamara held up a sign that read: “Don’t let other dads die. Pass a fully funded permanent Zadroga Bill. I miss my dad.”

His mother, Jennifer McNamara, lost her husband, John F. McNamara, a firefighter, to colon cancer that she said was caused by toxins that he was exposed to during the Sept. 11 attacks and afterward.

“It was my husband’s life mission” to get health care funding for emergency medical workers, she said. “I promised him on his deathbed that I would never give up the fight, and that when Jack was old enough, he would take up the fight.”

Last month, advocates for emergency responders were buoyed when Representative Peter T. King, Republican of Long Island, announced that members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee had agreed to support a permanent extension of the World Trade Center Health Program. Initially, lawmakers were considering a five- or 10-year extension.

But the rally was conceived to push Congress to turn that agreement into law. “It is unpatriotic to ignore the needs of our first responders,” Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, said at the protest. “It is un-American that this has stalled, and it is immoral that help hasn’t come to our heroes.”

The programs included in the Zadroga Act were approved in 2010 when lawmakers in Washington reached a compromise on the five-year law. More than 6,000 victims and their families have been awarded compensation for their illnesses, and many more have received treatment and monitoring.

The portion of the Zadroga Act set to expire next October, the Victim Compensation Fund, is now the object of wrangling in Washington. In October, Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, a Republican and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced his own version of the reauthorization bill. It was denounced by members of the New York congressional delegation for extending the fund for only five years and for making sharp cuts.

But negotiations appeared to have taken place. “I am pleased to advise that we are close to a final deal with the sponsors of the original Zadroga Act in order to provide a fully funded five-year extension of the 9/11” fund, Mr. Goodlatte said on Tuesday in a statement.

The timing of the negotiations was especially bitter last week for the city’s Fire Department. A former battalion chief, James Costello, 52, died before Thanksgiving. The cause was cancer, related to the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, fire officials said. He was buried on Wednesday.