When the World Trade Center towers collapsed on September 11, 2001, thousands of men and women did not think twice about lending their support. Firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and first responders arrived at ground zero, and they didn’t stop working until the job was complete. As an unfortunate consequence of their heroic acts, many of these individuals have died from or are developing diseases that are related to their work at ground zero.
To make things worse, the funds set aside to support those heroes are in danger of running out.
According to its annual report, the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund (VCF) is going to have to slash payments it makes to claimants. Claims filed on or before February 1, 2019, will be reduced by 50% — those filed after will be reduced by 70%.
These sharp decreases will have real affects on the people who depend on VCF money. Many of the new claims are coming from first responders who developed cancer as a result of being exposed to and inhaling toxic dust at Ground Zero. Already, more than $5 Billion of the total $7.4 Billion has been spent, and the VCF expects the number of claims to rise because people are still getting sick.
This is not a case of fraud or overspending — the money is being used for its exact intent. However, the number of people affected is larger than previously thought. In order to secure permanent funding for those affected, Congress will need to take action.
Bipartisan Call to Set Up Permanent Funding for the Zadroga Act
Democratic Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York and her Republican colleague, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, promised to sponsor a bill in the senate that will secure funding for the VCF. In the House of Representatives, Democrats Carolyn Maloney and Jarrold Nadler have said they will introduce a similar bill to make sure that VCF is able to compensate claims fully.
Essentially, both the House and Senate legislation looks to provide permanent funding for the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which was passed in 2011. The Zadroga Act reopened the VCF, which had been closed since 2004, and widened eligibility to include those who were injured as part of their role in the World Trade Center clean-up.
The bill was sponsored by Maloney and named in honor of James Zadroga, an NYC police officer whose death from respiratory disease was likely related to toxic dust he inhaled during rescue and recovery operations. Like thousands of others now getting sick, Zadroga’s lungs were scarred from the breaths he took at ground zero, digging through the poisonous rubble.
In the past, some politicians have stymied efforts to secure additional federal funding for victims of 9/11. They say the matter should be left up to the states, and it is expected that they will stall the passage of any new bill designed to make up for the funding shortfall.
Jon Stewart Joins New York Legislators to Advocate for 9/11 Victims
At a conference on Capitol Hill, Gillibrand and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York called upon their colleagues to make the right decision. They were joined by former Daily Show host Jon Stewart, a long-time and outspoken advocate for 9/11 first responders. He turned and addressed the hundreds of firefighters, police, and others gathered behind him:
“I’m embarrassed for our country. I’m embarrassed for New York, I’m embarrassed that you, after serving so selflessly with such heroism, have to come down here and convince people to do what’s right for the illnesses and difficulties that you suffered because of your heroism and because of your selflessness.”
The consequences of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center were both immediate and enduring. The buildings contained materials like asbestos and silica, and when they came down, they released toxic dust into the air. People who rushed to help or stayed to assist with the massive clean-up have developed cancers as a result of their heroism.
Mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, has a latency period of 20-50 years. This means that people who were exposed to asbestos during debris removal will only now – or soon – be getting sick. There is no reason someone should be denied coverage because the onset of their symptoms pushes past an arbitrary deadline.
“People are sick and dying and this is a morbid, perverted game that Congress plays that’s just not right,” said John Feal, a demolition supervisor whose leg was crushed by a steel beam at ground zero.
Feal, who travelled to Washington to support the bill, understands deeply the commitment that Congress must make. “I have people in wheelchairs, people with 6 months to live and oxygen tanks on this trip,” he said.
In the horrific aftermath of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, thousands of brave Americans put their lives on the line to make our country safe again. In their time of need, Congress needs to follow their example and deliver the same unquestioning support.