Congress has passed the Zadroga reauthorization act, providing permanent health care coverage to sick and injured 9/11 first responders. The renewal was included in a $1.1 trillion spending package known as the omnibus. The legislation was pushed by first responders, 9/11 advocates and lawmakers including Sens. Charles Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand and more recently Rep. Daniel Donovan. Rep. Peter King, Carolyn Maloney, and Jerrold Nadler also fought for the bill, along with comedian Jon Stewart a heavy supporter who publicized the issue while hosting “The Daily Show”.
The Zadroga Act was first passed in 2010; it opened the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). More than 33,000 responders receive medical care through the WTC Health Program. Congress allowed the WTC Health Fund to expire in October. The program had been relying on cash reserves to keep benefits going into next year, but the lack of renewal was a source of anxiety for responders and lawmakers alike. Under the omnibus, the program will be extended for 75 years until 2090, at the cost of $3.5 billion. The VCF will also be extended for five years at the cost of $4.6 billion. The VCF was due to expire next October.
Advocates and lawmakers rejoiced at the renewal, which took years. “Together, we made sure that no one could take their eyes off this,” said Schumer at a press conference. “Whenever there was an intransigent senator or member, we would talk to them. But when someone who had cancer and rushed to the pile came to their door … they couldn’t resist.”
Gillibrand recounted the hundreds of responders and family members who made the trek to D.C. in order to push for reauthorization. “I promise you, nothing ever happens here unless regular people demand it from their leaders,” she said with emotion. “Today is a joyous moment.” She also stated. “All my gratitude goes to the first responders … This is my proudest day in Washington.”
Donovan said the Zadroga Act would provide benefits to 6,700 people in his Congressional District. “I came down here and promised those people I would advocate,” He previously opposed a five-year extension bill, stating that it was not enough. “Today, we passed a bill in both houses that gives certainty that we will provide health care for these rescue workers forever.” he said in reference to that opposition.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo also praised Congress for their action, stating that reauthorization of the Zadroga Act is “proof that Washington can live up to its responsibility to the American people.”
“When the Twin Towers fell, thousands of brave men and women rushed into danger and put the safety of others before their own,” said Cuomo. “They rescued people from the rubble, sacrificed countless hours away from their families, and helped us heal and rebuild in the days that followed, while never straying from the kind of selfless courage that will be remembered for generations to come. And today, Congress has finally shown that these heroic acts were not forgotten.”