In the days and months that followed New York’s darkest day, the best among us responded to the rescue and recovery efforts without hesitation. Cops and firefighters, civil engineers and transit workers. It didn’t matter what agency they reported to, they were there for us.
Our civilian public employees were among those sent to assist in the cleanup efforts at Ground Zero. Some were ordered, others were asked. These brave men and women helped rebuild New York City in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
They didn’t say no. They didn’t walk away. They stayed and they went to work.
They withstood the conditions of the 16-acre site containing 1.8 million tons of hazardous debris, inhaling the toxic dust and smoke of lower Manhattan. They risked everything to ferry emergency crews back and forth. They helped New Yorkers piece life together in the aftermath. They worked tirelessly alongside uniformed responders.
They shared in their dedication, their hope, and their tears.
Today, they share the same debilitating health problems from their time at Ground Zero.
They face the same respiratory problems, the same gastroesophageal diseases, and the same onset asbestos-related musculoskeletal illnesses and cancers. They’ve been left with a lifetime of medical and physical impairments that prevent them from working.
Because these men and women are not technically classified as uniformed employees, they lost out on significant disability benefits that could have helped them to avoid financial difficulties. They aren’t looking for a handout. Most are simply too sick to continue working and are not eligible for the disability retirement benefits that they need and justly deserve.
They stepped up for all of us.
Now, it’s on us to step up for them.
Our bill, A8278/S5898, will right this wrong. It gives disability retirement benefits to these non-uniformed rescue workers on par with those afforded to the uniformed personnel they worked beside.
Can’t Wait Any Longer
While the Federal Government has turned its back on New York’s heroes by its failure to appropriate funding for the Victims Compensation Fund, New York State can take action. We urge the State Legislature to pass our bill, along with a package of 9/11 related bills before session adjourns this year. We cannot wait any longer.
We applaud our colleagues who are fighting similar battles to provide workers with the coverage they need. Among those includes Senator Gounardes’s sick-leave bill and the establishment of a process to more quickly approve 9/11-related diagnoses.
There is no rationale for the disparity in coverage. We owe it to the brave men and women who answered the call to pass this bill immediately.
Shame on all of us if we don’t.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Gaughran is a State Senator representing Huntington and Mr. Weprin is a Queens Assemblyman.
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