Donovan, Schumer, Gillibrand dismayed by Zadroga Act expiration
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- While there is enough money to fund programs under the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act for another year, the act's expiration at midnight brought dismay to Staten Island's members of Congress.
A portion of the act that pays for the medical expenses for those suffering from 9/11-related health conditions expired absent a vote from Congress to renew it.
Next year, the other portion of the act that compensates families of victims is set to expire.
First responders and advocates, including The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, recently traveled down to Washington, D.C., to ask lawmakers to pass the extension before the act expires.
"The World Trade Center Health Fund thankfully has the resources to continue into 2016 without any interruption in services," Rep. Daniel Donovan said in a statement. "Still, there is no excuse for further delay. Funding medical expenses for 9/11 heroes goes beyond politics. With Senators Gillibrand and Schumer in the Senate and myself and Congressman King in the House, our top priority is passing a permanent extension so nobody has to fear their health care will expire before they receive their benefits. The program should end when every rescue worker and recovery volunteer is cared for. Let's get this done."
Donovan (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) co-sponsored the extension bill as his first official act after being sworn in on May 12.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) have been vocal proponents of extending the provisions of the act permanently and both expressed disappointment that their colleagues didn't make it a priority.
Schumer spoke on the Senate floor Thursday to mark the "sad occasion" of the act expiring.
"In truth, it is a black mark on Congress that the program was ever allowed to expire, regardless of its ability to continue operation in the short-term," Schumer said.
He recalled the first responders walking the halls of Congress, pleading with lawmakers to put their money where their mouth is when they say, "never forget."
"I was so troubled to hear earlier this week, when again asked if the Senate would consider the extension of the Zadroga Act before the deadline, the Majority Leader said he'd 'have to check and get back on that.' When the towers were hit, the firefighters, EMS workers and cops who rushed into those burning buildings did not stop and say 'I have to check on that and get back to you.' When the towers came down and there was hellhole of twisted steel and smoldering plasterboard with our sisters and brothers trapped within, did the ironworkers and carpenters and laborers and steamfitters and all manner of others stop and say – 'I have to check on that and get back to you.'? No. They rushed in before they were even asked. They did their duty. They did more than their duty. Many died. And many more are now suffering," Schumer said.
Gillibrand also made a passionate speech on the Senate floor, hers one day before the act expired.
She told the story of Ken George, from Long Island, who has crushed glass in his lungs from being on the pile. He can't work and doesn't get enough financial to provide for his wife and three kids.
"The health program officially expires tomorrow – at midnight – but these illnesses – Ken's and thousands of others – they will not expire," Gillibrand said. "Neither should their health care. ... Mr. President, a majority of this body has already signed on as co-sponsors of this legislation, including many after our day of action earlier this month. So let's finish the job. Let's give our 9/11 heroes the care and compensation they deserve – and so desperately need. Let's truly 'never forget.' The clock is ticking. Let's do our job."
Gillibrand said Thursday, after the act expired, "While we're fortunate that health care can continue, we should not put our first responders and survivors in a position to worry about the future of their medical treatment. We will not stop until the health program is made permanent, and we're working to pass our bill by the end of the year so that services may continue without interruption and for as long as they're needed."