LOWER MANHATTAN — Elected officials are calling for a 25-year-extension of a soon-to-expire federal law that provides health care and compensation for 9/11 survivors and first responders who got sick after breathing the toxic air at Ground Zero.
The $4.3 billion James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which passed Congress in 2010 after years of political wrangling, is set to expire over the next couple of years, but New York politicians are fighting to extend the benefits through 2041.
“No group deserves our gratitude and help more than those who went to Ground Zero in the days and weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement, following a press conference with other local officials Monday outside of 7 World Trade Center. "We have a moral obligation to make sure that these heroes and their families get the medical treatment and compensation they deserve.”
The World Trade Center Health Care Program, which offers free health care, is currently slated to expire in October 2015. The Victim Compensation Fund, which reimburses responders and survivors for medical care as well as lost wages and pain and suffering, will end in 2016.
At Monday's press conference, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said she and Sen. Chuck Schumer will introduce new legislation in Congress this week to extend the Zadroga Act for an additional 25 years, to ensure that all those who are sick receive help. Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler and Pete King are also working on similar legislation for the House of Representatives.
The officials did not immediately say how much the expansion would cost.
More than 60,00 first responders, recovery workers and survivors across the country are currently receiving medical treatment through the WTC Health Program, according to Gillibrand's office. The program treats numerous chronic diseases and respiratory illnesses, including asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease and several types of cancer.
The Victim Compensation Fund has deemed more than 7,000 survivors and workers eligible for compensation for their 9/11-related injuries. The fund is still accepting applications through Oct. 12, 2014 for those who have been diagnosed with 9/11-related cancers.