Any public employee in New York State who was part of the World Trade Center clean-up and developed a certified WTC health condition will be entitled to the same 75-percent disability benefit for which their uniformed colleagues are already eligible under a bill signed into law Sept. 11 by Governor Cuomo.
“9/11 was not 18 years ago—9/11 is every day. We honor, we remember, and we reflect, but it’s also our duty to act,” he said. “The 100,000 brave men and women who showed up to help on 9/11 deserve to be taken care of the way they took care of us, and we’re not going to leave them alone, because they are American heroes. Today, we took action to help ensure they get the health benefits and pension benefits they deserve. We honor them, we honor their families and we honor their courage—and we will repay the debt we owe them the best we can.”
‘Essential for Hundreds’
The law ensures that public workers like civil engineers are eligible for the same disability benefit equal to 75 percent of final average salary “as those they worked side-by-side with in the post-9/11 recovery,” according to a statement released by State Sen. Jim Gaughran, the bill’s sponsor. “This legislation is essential for hundreds of estimated employees who are suffering from serious, terminal, or debilitating medical conditions yet are unable to retire as a result of staggering medical costs.”
The bill was sponsored in the Assembly by David Weprin.
During the nine-month clean-up, workers were exposed to dioxin, PCBs, asbestos, and pulverized cement, fiberglass, and steel.
In the years since, thousands of workers have come down with a wide array of cancers and other diseases that have been linked to their labors at the site.
A Growing Concern
To date, 50,000 people have some World Trade Center health condition, including 13,000 who have developed at least one cancer. Experts predict that there could be an additional 20,000 cancers linked to the WTC contamination.
In the years since, both uniformed and civilian responders and members of the surrounding community have developed respiratory problems, gastroesophageal diseases, onset asbestos-related musculoskeletal illnesses, and cancers.
Before the passage of this legislation, civilian WTC responders whose health issues forced them to retire were entitled to a pension benefit of just 33 percent of final average salary.
Wayne Spence, president of the Public Employees’ Federation, said the bill corrected an “injustice suffered by some state employees” who were put in the same dangerous environment after the attack but not given the same benefits once they were disabled.
Other Related Bills
Other 9/11 bills signed into law by Mr. Cuomo included a provision that makes it easier for volunteers at the World Trade Center site who now work for the state to file claims for sick leave by providing a process for public authorities and municipal corporations outside of New York City to obtain reimbursement for line-of-duty sick leave.
Another new law increases the number of physicians authorized to evaluate members of the New York City Employees’ Retirement System applying for a disability pension, as well mandating that NYCERS hire additional physicians with the expertise needed to properly evaluate World Trade Center-related disabilities to speed processing of applications.
The Governor also signed off on a bill that grants FDNY retirees who are diagnosed with certain cancers or melanoma a presumption that the cancer was the consequence of them performing their duties. The bill also provides for a five-year lookback window, making the retirees eligible to receive disability benefits.
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