Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Mayor de Blasio has proposed a bill that would establish parity for the families of all city employees who were part of the response and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site and subsequently died of a 9/11-related illness by providing special health coverage to them.

Its backing by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who said, "we look forward to seeing the bill," virtually assures it will become law.

Currently, that benefit is restricted to the families of cops, firefighters, and Emergency Medical Technicians who die from line-of-duty causes, regardless of whether they were in active service or were retired at the time they died.

Unequal Treatment

Survivors of correction officers and sanitation workers receive health insurance only if those employees die while in active service, and survivors of employees in other civil-service titles who die from a 9/11-related illness can’t qualify for city-sponsored health insurance.

“On our city’s darkest day, thousands of city employees answered the call. They didn’t hesitate. We need to be there for their families, now and always,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement.

“This legislation would close any gaps in current law so that all city employees who die of a 9/11 illness are treated the same, allowing their survivors to receive city health insurance upon approval of their World Trade Center accidental-death pension by the applicable city public retirement system,” the press release announcing the proposal stated.

Could Cover 5,000

The city estimates that 5,000 employees, across several agencies in a variety of civil-service titles, could be covered over time. To qualify, city workers have to have been verified by their respective retirement system and agency as having been part of World Trade Center rescue, recovery and cleanup operations.

Staten Island Borough President James Oddo hailed the proposal. “In 2017, the Staten Island 9/11 First Responders Memorial was officially unveiled. Sadly, each year there are new names added to the plaques,” he said in a statement.

“We advocated for all civilian responders who were at Ground Zero to be granted unlimited sick leave, and moved the City Council to lend its voice to the nationwide call for Congress to pass the law that made the Victim Compensation Fund permanent,” said Council Member I. Daneek Miller, chair of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor. “I applaud the administration for its proposal to provide health-care security and peace of mind to the surviving family members of our heroes and heroines. They surely deserve it.”

“Nearly two decades after that fateful day, our first-responders and their families are still grappling with long-term, debilitating illnesses in the aftermath of 9/11,” Council Member Farah N. Louis said in a statement. “Today’s proposed legislation is a fitting tribute to our fallen and living heroes who deserve so much more for the sacrifices that they made without hesitation.”

‘Protects Our Heroes’

The initiative was widely praised by the city’s labor unions.

“We applaud Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Johnson for supporting legislation that would protect the families of 9/11 rescue and recovery workers/volunteers who risked their lives in that horrific attack against our city,” District Council 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said in a statement.

Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association and chair of the Municipal Labor Committee, said, “We can never relieve the pain of their loss, but we can take this important step to provide health benefits as a way to affirm: We will never forget.”

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, praised the initiative as correcting a “gross unfairness in how some city employees were being treated.”

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