Nine years after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, elected officials and police and fire unions this week urged the Senate to follow the House’s lead and pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Bill.
“We finally took an important step forward last week,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn), one of the bill’s most vocal advocates, Monday outside the quarters of Engine Co. 294/Ladder Co. 143 in Richmond Hill. “Our work is not completely done. We’re watching their votes closely.”
Validated on the House floor last week after a vote of 268 to 160, the proposed legislation is now in the Senate, which has adjourned until after the November midterm elections. According to a Daily News report, it has been “fast-tracked” by Senate Democrats and will not go through the committee review process. President Barack Obama has indicated he would sign the bill into law.
The $7.4 billion bill is named for NYPD Det. James Zadroga, 34, who died from a respiratory illness that two out of three pathologists attributed to exposure to toxins during hundreds of hours of work at Ground Zero following the Sept. 11 tragedy. The city chief medical examiner determined that Zadroga’s respiratory illness was caused by injected prescription medication. Zadroga was awarded a settlement from the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund, and at the time of his death, the 10-year veteran was on permanent disability retirement from the Police Department.
Terms of HR 847 provide medical monitoring and treatment, through the World Trade Center Health Program, to first responders who have developed illnesses — a range of respiratory, gastrointestinal, mental health conditions — after being exposed to toxic dust during the recovery efforts following the collapse of the Twin Towers. In addition to police officers, firefighters and emergency medical service personnel, coverage and compensation would also apply to affected federal employees, trade union workers, volunteers and community residents.
The legislation also reopens the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund and provides liability protections for the WTC contractors and the city. Cost is fully paid for through revenue offsets.
“Our bill provides proper care to those who lost their health because of the 9/11 attacks and demonstrates that we will not abandon those who come to aid of our nation in times of crisis,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Queens and Manhattan), who sponsored the measure along with Jerrold Nadler (D-Brooklyn and Manhattan), Michael McMahon (D-Staten Island and Brooklyn) and Peter King (R-Nassau and Suffolk).
In July, the bill did not receive the two-thirds majority vote needed to pass, leading to an animated exchange between Weiner and King on the House floor that made the Democrat an overnight YouTube sensation.
The two lawmakers have since worked out their differences, but at the time, King assailed Democrats for not opting for a simple majority tally, suggesting they did not want to vote on an amendment to the bill that would preclude illegal immigrants from being covered.
Many officials publically applauded the House’s action and put the onus on the Senate.
“The bill was passed when members put party politics aside,” said John Dunne of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.
“We have to take care of those who took care of us,” Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch asserted.
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens and Nassau) last week noted that the bill will have a lasting effect on the future of the country.
“We must pass this bill not only because it’s the right thing to do for those people who are sick, but for the next generation of responders who will have to think twice about volunteering and working at the site of a terrorist attack,” he said.
According to Maloney, to date, an estimated 36,000 Americans have received treatment for Sept. 11-related illnesses and injuries; over 53,000 responders are enrolled in medical monitoring; 71,000 individuals are enrolled in the WTC Health Registry, indicating that they were exposed to the toxins.
“[The bill] is almost instantly going to change how people are being cared for,” Weiner said.