A broad coalition of public- and private-sector unions rallied in lower Manhattan May 30 to urge Congress to renew the 9/11 Victims Compensation Act, which is running out of money and set to close at the end of next year.
The VCF was set up along with the World Trade Center Health Program for the estimated 90,000 first-responders and workers who served at the Trade Center site and were exposed to deadly toxins during the response and the recovery period that went on for several months after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack.
10,000 Cancer Cases
According to Health Program officials, 10,000 first-responders and 9/11 survivors have already been diagnosed with cancers that have been linked to WTC exposures. That number is expected to spike to 25,000 by 2025.
The VCF has paid out more than $5.13 billion of its $7.3-billion appropriation. It determined 23,390 claimants were eligible and made initial award determinations for 22,204 of those claims. Another 16,850 applications are still pending and the agency continues to receive thousands of additional claims.
Last year, Rupa Bhattacharyya, the Special Master for the 9/11 VCF, announced that as a consequence of a dramatic spike in the number of 9/11 wrongful death and World Trade Center-related cancer claims, the fund would have to reduce the size of its payouts by 50 to 75 percent, depending on the nature of the claim.
The pending legislation would make whole those claimants who have received the reduced payments.
“The number of survivors and first-responders eligible for the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund is surging,” Council Member Margaret Chin told attendees at the rally for VCF renewal. “This fund represents a promise made by our country to the first-responders and survivors, and with the VCF set to expire next year, it is a promise America is dangerously close to not upholding. This is unacceptable.”
The rally at the World Trade Center was convened by Ms. Chin, whose district includes the neighborhood, and I. Daneek Miller, chair of the Council Committee on Labor and Pensions. Later in the day the Council passed a resolution asking for congressional action on the VCF renewal.
“This is not a privilege—this is a right that each and every one of the workers and responders earned,” Mr. Miller said of access to the 9/11 VCF. “Their families deserve it.”
Advocates report they are closing in on having 300 House members, including 70 Republicans, sign on as co-sponsors. In the Republican-controlled Senate, progress has been slower, with 38 of the 100 members on board, including seven Republicans.
Council Member Joseph Borelli, a Republican and the chair of the Committee on Fire and Emergency Management, urged Congress to find common ground on VCF renewal.
“Shame, shame on those members of Congress whatever party they are…if they are not making this a priority, if they not making this a serious issue and treating this with the level of concern that we the people that live here have,” he said. “When they look at the fact sheet about this and see eligible participants, we see our neighbors who are dying with cancer, who are suffering.”
District Council 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido reminded those present that while thousands of people ran away from the scene of the 9/11 attack and WTC collapse, “we saw city workers and first-responders running to Ground Zero…despite their own concerns because they had a mission to rescue individuals, a mission to make sure that as long as one life was still out there they were out there fighting to save them.”
He continued, “I just want you to juxtapose that picture 17 years later when an EMS worker has got cancer, who knows she is going to die but is most concerned about her children and her family being left behind because she volunteered…to help save lives.”
In addition to the first-responders, civil servants from numerous agencies and thousands of building trade union members on the clean-up, were part of the efforts to reclaim the wider lower Manhattan neighborhood devastated by the collapse of much of the Port Authority complex.
“When the schools were closed after 9/11, we knew it was our obligation to do whatever we possibly could to continue our students’ education so as to give them some normality when our Federal Government told us it was safe to come down here,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said. “I want to be clear: on that day our government made an obligation. They told us it was safe to come back down here and open the schools. Twenty-five hundred school staff and 19,000 students came back into the zone.”
He continued, “Just imagine a first grader walking back to school. Imagine that first grader as an 18-year-old being diagnosed with cancer because they were told they could go back to school. Imagine a first grader when they are in college being told they are having trouble with reading because they were told they could go back to that school.”
“You don’t know what it means to somebody who is sick and has been told they have months, maybe weeks to live and the stress that’s involved on how their family is going to be taken care of,” said Uniformed Firefighters Association President Gerard Fitzgerald. “Will they lose their house? Will their kids be able to go to college?…It is a big deal. The stress needs to be taken away.”
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, one of the lead sponsors of the 9/11 VCF legislation, told the crowd that the House Judiciary Committee she sits on expects to act on the reauthorization of the program in June and vote it out of committee. It would then head to the full House for consideration.
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.