Congress Still Hasn’t Passed a Long-Term Extension of the Law Helping 9/11 Responders

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Mayor de Blasio pushes for Zadroga Act extension at Ground Zero
Mayor de Blasio speaking at Ground Zero for a rally to push Congress to pass a full extension of the Zadroga Act.Photo: Louise Wateridge/© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

On October 1, the World Trade Center Health Program expired. The legislation helped pay for the medical costs of 9/11 first responders; hundreds have already died from illnesses stemming from the awful things they had to inhale at Ground Zero in the years since September 11, 2001. 

The legislation still hasn’t been renewed, and New York legislators have been busy trying to rally their colleagues to pass a long-term extension of the law so those at the mercy of Congress don’t have to worry about their health care disappearing every few years. However, there aren’t many chances to renew the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act — named after a first responder who died in 2006 — before the year ends. There’s the omnibus spending bill — the one that needs to pass if we’re going to avoid a shutdown — or a tax-breaks extension.

The bill’s supporters originally wanted the 9/11 benefits to be tucked into the recently passed transportation bill, but that didn’t work. Democrats blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for its exclusion, while congressional Republicans say that everyone wants the legislation to pass by the end of the year — it just didn’t belong in a bill about highway funding. House Speaker Paul Ryan told NBC News last week, "We have not decided what vehicle it will be or what funding level but it is something we do intend to get done by the end of the year." 

Several lawmakers are worried that extending the bill permanently will be too expensive — cost was a major hurdle the first time the legislation passed in 2010. The passed law ended up putting aside less money for first responders than was originally proposed. 

Just in case, however, plenty of New York politicians gathered at the World Trade Center on Sunday to let everyone know just how disgraceful they thought it was that it had proven so difficult to pass such a noncontroversial bit of legislation with so many co-sponsors. Next to the speakers stood a 9-year-old boy whose father died in 2009. He held a sign that read, “Don’t let other dads die! Pass a fully funded permanent Zadroga Bill. I miss my dad.”

I’ll tell you the legislation I’d like to propose,” Senator Chuck Schumer said. “That those who block this legislation in its final week be required to attend a funeral of a first responder who rushed to the towers, got toxic stuff in his body, and died. Let them come to the funeral and see what they’re making happen.” 

It’s a national scandal,” Representative Carolyn Maloney added. “There are hundreds of people that are sick at this time, with more to come, unfortunately,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton added. “Some of those illnesses take quite a while to develop, so this bill is very, very important.”

It is unpatriotic to ignore the needs of our first responders,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “It is un-American that this has stalled, and it is immoral that help hasn’t come to our heroes.” According to the New York Daily News, about 100 people attended the rally. Last week, another rally took place at the Capitol. Jon Stewart — who invited a bunch of first responders on The Daily Show back in 2010 to push lawmakers to pass the original bill — brought around a bunch of people who worked at Ground Zero to try and convince a few lawmakers to hurry things along. He noted that McConnell sponsored a health-care bill intended to help workers in his state who were injured at nuclear power plants. “How in good conscience can you deny them the very thing that you have proudly brought to the people of your state?” Stewart said. “Please, personally ask him that.”

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Jon Stewart talks with a fireman after speaking in front of the U.S. Capitol on September 16.Photo: Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Gett

Stewart was seen talking to Senator Lindsey Graham, who is running for president. Graham is a co-sponsor of the Zadroga reauthorization bill introduced back in April, as are senators Bernie Sanders and Marco Rubio.