By Meghan Neal
Downtown Express – Volume 23, Number 3 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 28 – June 3, 2010
U.S. Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney and Jerry Nadler paid a visit to ground zero on Sunday to highlight a 9/11 health care bill that has been dragging through Congress for nearly nine years. The bill cleared a huge hurdle on Tuesday when it passed its final committee vote, sending it to the house floor.
“It’s a difficult bill, a complicated bill, a costly bill,” said Maloney. The legislation would provide $11 billion in federal funds toward health care and compensation for first responders and survivors who are sick as a result of toxins left in the air after the 9/11 attacks.
Maloney and Nadler were joined by a group of the bill’s supporters: police, firefighters, 9/11 first responders currently suffering from health problems, members of the New York delegation and Lower Manhattan residents.
“Every day another floor, another piece of steel goes into reconstructing ground zero, and yet we still haven’t found a way to provide health care,” Rep. Anthony Weiner said at the event. “We’ve waited far, far too long.”
Now the bill is one step closer to becoming law. Having passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee Tuesday, it will be sent to the floor of congress for a vote, possibly as early as next month. Meanwhile, the Senate HELP committee (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) has a hearing scheduled for July.
Thousands of rescue workers that responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as well as local residents, office workers and school children, continue to suffer significant medical problems, the bill states.
Nadler was quick to point out that at least 10,000 rescue workers who traveled from all around the country after the attacks were also affected. One of the major reasons for opposition to the bill is that it would delegate a substantial amount of federal funds solely to New York.
“People from 431 of 435 congressional districts came to help,” Nadler said. “It’s not just a New York issue. New York was not attacked; the United States was attacked.”
The bill’s supporters pointed fingers at the federal government, saying it claimed the air was safe for residents to return to New York when in fact it was not.
By quickly returning to town and starting to rebuild, it meant the terrorists did not win, said Catherine Hughes, co-chair of Manhattan Community Board 1. Now many who lived, worked and went to school in the area are sick, with more becoming sick every day.
A representative of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association sited a New England Journal of Medicine article statistic that firefighters at the scene lost 12 years of lung capacity in the blink of an eye.
Several first responders present expressed concern that if, and when, another attack occurred, people might think twice before responding due to the potential health consequences.
The bill sites studies and medical monitoring programs that show increased health problems and worsened symptoms over the years. This includes respiratory issues, mental health conditions, low pregnancy rates and birth defects.
The bill is named the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, after the first NYPD officer whose death, of respiratory problems, was sited as a direct cause of toxins at the site of the attack.
The 9/11 Health and Compensation Act has two main components. One, it continues comprehensive health care and expands federal programs to monitor those exposed to toxins and treat those already diagnosed with illness or injury.
Two, it re-opens the Victim Compensation Fund, which enables families of victims to recoup financial losses caused by the disaster. The legislation would extend the deadline for those who wish to file a claim.
Adding pressure to the issue is the city’s $657 million legal settlement being offered to responders for 9/11-related health problems. People could be forced to choose between the less generous settlement or take a risk on a bill that is not guaranteed to pass.
Rep. Maloney said Tuesday’s vote was the toughest hurdle yet.
“We’ve gathered at ground zero many times,” she said, standing at Vesey and Greenwich Streets. “I look forward to the day when the bill will be law and we don’t have to do this anymore.”