Proposed Bill for “3/4 WTC Pensions for Civilian Workers” underscores the importance of extending the Victim Compensation Fund.
I applaud the efforts of State Sen. Tony Avella, Sen. Diane Savino and Assemblyman David Weprin who are proposing a bill that would give 15,000 civilian municipal and state workers (including 2,000 TWU Local 100 workers) the same 3/4 World Trade Center disability pensions as uniformed workers.
The non-uniformed municipal workers who came to ground zero didn’t just restore stability to our city, their contributions were an integral part of restoring stability to our nation after the deadliest terrorist attack on our soil in United States history.
These civilian municipal workers were exposed to the same toxic dust as their uniformed colleagues during the eight months of rescue, recovery and debris-removal efforts.
Paying the Price Now
They, too, inhaled asbestos, chromium, lead, benzene, jet fuel and ground glass, to name just a few carcinogens. And, not surprisingly, these brave workers are suffering the same disabling and life-threatening respiratory illnesses and cancers as the uniformed firefighters and police officers they worked beside.
The proposed bill underscores that those workers are suffering physically and financially. It is our duty to help them now.
The arguments against the proposed bill are purely fiscal. Nobody disagrees that there is an inequity that should be corrected, and that these workers and their families deserve financial security as they battle life-threatening WTC illnesses.
My law firm represents thousands of municipal workers who are receiving 3/4 WTC disability pensions. We also represent thousands of other municipal workers who breathed the same air and, not surprisingly, developed the exact same disabling illnesses. Yet, they do not get a disability pension.
We represent thousands of nonunion workers who get no pensions at all when their WTC illnesses prevent them from working any longer. Without help, many of these people would be destitute.
Feds Should Pay Tab
Fortunately, there is a simple solution and one that won’t cost the city or state any additional money: Extend the Federal 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). The Federal Government can and should foot the bill for misleading the 9/11 community about the quality of the air. Who can forget the EPA’s infamous pronouncement that “the air is safe”?!
The WTC Health Program has already been funded and extended by Washington for another 70 years. The government should now do the right thing and extend the VCF, which is currently scheduled to expire in December 2020. If it does, civilian and uniformed workers alike will be entitled to compensation for lost income if they are found disabled as a result of their 9/11 certified disabling illnesses.
Under VCF rules, the disability portion of a pension is deducted from an applicant’s economic loss award. If civilian workers aren’t entitled to a disability pension, and they can prove that they are disabled as a result of their WTC illness, then they receive an economic-loss award that is not reduced by a disability pension.
Both uniformed and non-uniformed workers currently end up receiving a fair award that reflects their actual lost income. However, once the VCF ends in 2020, sick uniformed workers will continue to receive their disability pensions when they are found disabled, while sick non-uniformed workers will not be compensated for their lost income.
The Federal Government must do the right thing and extend the VCF so that everyone is treated equally.
Michael Barasch is the managing attorney of Barasch McGarry Salzman & Penson. The firm represented NYPD Det. James Zadroga, for whom the 9/11 Zadroga Health & Compensation Act was named.
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