Failure to reauthorize Zadroga bill is Congress' shame (editorial)
What Congress is doing to the sick and dying heroes of 9/11, many of them Staten Islanders, is a national disgrace. It's a low point in the history of American politics.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have yet to reauthorize the federal health program that provides monitoring and treatment for responders who toiled at Ground Zero.
The $4.3-billion James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 expired on Oct. 1.
Left to worry about the future of their U.S.-backed medical coverage are more than 33,000 ailing first responders to the devastation at Ground Zero, along with other eligible survivors of the terrorist attacks.
"The World Trade Center Health Fund thankfully has the resources to continue into 2016 without any interruption in services," said Rep. Daniel Donovan of Staten Island.. "Still, there is no excuse for further delay. Funding medical expenses for 9/11 heroes goes beyond politics."
In his first official act after being sworn in on May 12, Mr. Donovan (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) signed up to co-sponsor legislation to extend the Zadroga benefits.
Five years ago, Republicans who were grumbling about the potential cost of treating and compensating 9/11 victims insisted on an expiration date for the legislation.
New York's two Democratic senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, have been among the leading advocates for making the Zadroga coverage permanent.
'A black mark on Congress'
"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," Mr. Schumer said.
Ms. Gillibrand said that letting the World Trade Center benefits program expire creates "enormous anxieties and fears in the minds of very sick people."
As she has pointed out, a majority of U.S. senators are co-sponsoring reauthorization of the Zadroga programs.
"So let's finish the job," said Ms. Gillibrand said. "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."
We couldn't agree more.
In a letter to the Senate, Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control, said if the law isn't extended, the World Trade Center Health Program "will begin to face significant operational challenges" by February.
By next summer, the enrolled beneficiaries will have to be notified that they may not receive health care beyond September 2016 and the program will start to shut down.
Mr. Frieden said that process obviously could cause additional stress for sick and dying patients.
Which is why Mr. Donovan, along with Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand, doesn't want Congress and the current situation to go on indefinitely.
'Let's get this done'
"Our top priority is passing a permanent extension so nobody has to fear their health care will expire before they receive their benefits." Said Mr. Donovan: "The program should end when every rescue worker and recovery volunteer is cared for. Let's get this done."
Staten Island lost more than its share of victims on 9/11 and families in this borough have suffered ever since as the medical toll mounts among local responders who worked in the toxic debris at Ground Zero.
The WTC Health Program treats many chronic diseases and respiratory illnesses, including cancer, asthma and obstructive pulmonary disease.
About 3,700 first-responders have been diagnosed with a 9/11-related cancer. Studies show they have gotten cancers — including prostate, thyroid, and multiple myeloma — at significantly higher rates than the general population.
Members of the New York police and fire departments, whose ranks traditionally have been swelled by Staten Islanders, have been especially hard hit over the years since the collapse of the Twin Towers.
9/11 keeps claiming lives
Over 100 FDNY members and over 80 NYPD members reportedly have died from illnesses linked to Ground Zero. For police, the total exceeds those killed on Sept. 11.
Without federal support, the ailing heroes of 9/11, many of whom subsequently have become unable to work, would be left with a mountain of health-care bills.
It is a matter that affects people across the nation.
Participants enrolled in the WTC Health Program for treatment now reside in all 50 states and in 429 of the nation's 435 Congressional Districts.
"This is not just a New York issue and it's not just another program on a line item in the budget," said Mr. Donovan about Zadroga benefits. "It's about helping those who paid a price for helping us in our darkest hour."
We expect our leaders in Washington to respond and resolve this looming crisis sooner rather than later.
It is the right thing to do for the heroes of 9/11.