Volume 23, Number 13 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 4 - 10, 2010
9/11 health bill flops
BY Aline Reynolds
On September 11, 2001, while working in her Downtown office, Lainie Kitt watched the second plane crash into the South Tower at the World Trade Center.
Kitt, a housing assistant at New York City Housing Authority, whose offices are at 90 Church Street, steps away from Ground Zero, said she subsequently developed asthma and indigestion from the smoke inhalation along with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“It’s just been horrible,” she said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it.”
To Kitt’s and others’ dismay, the James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act Bill, named after 9/11 responder and New York City Police Detective James Zadroga, did not get the two-thirds vote it needed to pass the House of Representatives last Thursday evening. Two-hundred-forty-three Democrats and 12 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, while 155 Republicans and four Democrats voted against it.
“Some Republicans objected to the way in which [the bill] was paid for, and others simply didn’t understand the scope and severity of this crisis, and that’s a shame,” said a spokesperson for State Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, one of the bill’s main sponsors. The spokesperson requested anonymity.
The House is expected to bring the bill back to the floor in September, when it would require a traditional simple majority to pass.
The $7.4 billion bill would financially reimburse 9/11 victims for their illnesses and provide additional medical monitoring and treatment to 25,000 responders and 25,000 “survivors” — area residents, office workers and students that were harmed by the attacks.
Normally, a majority is all that’s needed for a bill’s passage. But the House decided to bring the bill to the floor under suspension of the rules, which demands a two-thirds majority for passage and bans amendments.
The bill would reopen a compensation fund for victims who did not file for health care benefits before the original December 22, 2003 deadline, or fell ill after that date.
“I’m extremely disappointed with the outcome,” said Rob Spencer, co-chair of the W.T.C. Environmental Health Center Community Advisory Committee.
Local elected officials are equally dissatisfied with the outcome of last week’s vote.
“I write to express my profound disappointment and concern at the failure of the House of Representatives to pass the 9/11 James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act,” said Councilmember Margaret Chin in an August 2 letter sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“Critics have charged that the bill is an ‘entitlement program.’ That is no more true than providing services to wounded military veterans is an entitlement program,” she added.
“We have an obligation to make sure that 9/11 rescue and recovery workers who risked their lives for our community receive proper long-term medical care and support,” State Senator Daniel Squadron said in a statement. “The comprehensive health care and compensation for 9/11 heroes provided by the Zadroga legislation are already long overdue.” Squadron said he’ll continue to fight for the bill’s passage.
Kitt gets a full, complimentary physical examination and P.T.S.D. every three months at Bellevue Hospital Center, at First Avenue between 26th and 27th Streets, sponsored by the W.T.C. Environmental Health Center. The health center also provides services for adults and children at Gouverneur Health Care Services, on the Lower East Side, and at Elmhurst Hospital Center. The Zadroga bill, if signed into law, would “guarantee federal funding for the program and make it permanent,” according to Maloney’s spokesperson.
The bill would also finance Secretary of Health and Human Services research on the diagnosis and treatment of physical and mental health conditions related to 9/11. In addition, it would support continuous data collection by the World Trade Center Health Registry.
The first version of the bill was introduced in the House back in 2004 and has since undergone several changes. It originally cost $10.5 billion and was reduced to $7.4 billion before it was brought to the House floor last week so it could be paid for in full by the federal government, according to Maloney’s spokesperson.
Republicans introduced several other amendments to the bill while it was in the energy/commerce and judiciary committees, most of which were ultimately shot down. One was aimed at barring illegal immigrants from receiving health care under the bill.
“The federal government is morally obligated to provide for those people who came to the rescue,” said Kimberly Flynn, coordinator of 9/11 Environmental Action, a community-based organization comprised of residents, parents and occupational safety, public and environmental health advocates.
Spencer said the government is responsible for continuing to help those that suffered physically from the 9/11 attacks, particularly since victims weren’t given fair warning of the remaining toxins in the air in the days and weeks following the attacks.
“[The bill] would not have arisen if precautions had been taken to protect people,” said Spencer. “They were brought back to a hazardous site prematurely and exposed to a range of toxics that were extremely harmful. Now people are back at work, but their health is gone.”