Congress Passes Scaled-Down 9/11 Health Care Bill

NY 1 - December 23, 2010

by Josh Robin

The U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives passed Wednesday a scaled-down version of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which will provide $4.2 billion over five years to first responders who were sickened at the site of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Following a last-minute deal brokered by New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, the Senate unanimously approved the $4.3 billion, five-year compensation package.

"Democrats and Republicans came together to make sure that we could fulfill our undeniable moral obligation to our men and women, our first responders, our heroes and all the survivors at Ground Zero," said Gillibrand.

"Remember days like today," said Schumer, "where America, not Democrats, not Republicans, not New Yorkers, not Wyomingites, rose to the occasion."

The House of Representatives then passed the revised bill Wednesday evening by a vote of 206-60.

The bill, which was six years in the making, is named after James Zadroga, a New York City Police Department detective who died from an illness he developed after spending 450 hours working at the WTC site following the attacks.

The passed measure will provide $1.8 billion for first responders' health care. Another $2.5 billion will help reopen the Victims Compensation Fund, which will be closed in 2016, as opposed to 2031.

The initial Zadroga Act called for a 10-year, $7.4 billion package. Recently, it was reduced to $6.2 billion.

"We said that we'd never forget," said State Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "And today's action ensures that these heroes are never forgotten, just as they helped us recover from 9/11, we'll stand by them and help them recover from the distress, illnesses and maladies as a result of them being heroes for us."

First responders, including some who are dying from the attack's aftereffects, took pride in the victory.

"You can rest and have peace of mind knowing help is on its way in 2011," said September 11th first responder and advocate John Feal. "To me, that's better than opening any Christmas present this year and it's because of everybody's hard work that this Christmas will be the best Christmas that I've ever known."

"If I didn't have that treatment, I don't know where I would be," said another first responder in Washington.

Schumer said that the supporters will fight to extend the bill five years from now, when it expires.

Funding for the bill would come from, in part, a new tax on foreign companies that have contracts with the United States government.

Growing emotional in an interview, Feal, who lost half his foot in the pile, said it was equally important are the benefits for loved ones of first responders who died.

"They too will share in this victory... and to the 990 that lost loved ones, there's got to be some sort of comfort," said Feal. "This is not going to bring anyone back, but this is always about easing pain."

The bill will now head to President Barack Obama, who said previously that he will sign it.