To the difficulties confronting Ground Zero responders who are fighting Congress in a nearly annual battle to fund their health care needs after many became sick after their assistance following 9/11. It’s an issue that few probably were thinking about before a viral video clip made waves this week.
On Tuesday, comedian Jon Stewart, who has long advocated for 9/11 first responders and famously dedicated an entire 2010 episode of his “The Daily Show” on a bill supporting them, appeared before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to encourage members to support re-upping funding of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. Stewart grew upset, however, when only a little over half of the subcommittee members showed up as World Trade Center emergency workers sat in the audience — and rightfully so.
“Tens of thousands of first responders came to the aid of victims on 9/11, searching for survivors, managing the cleanup of Ground Zero, and exposing themselves to toxic debris in the air including asbestos, lead, and pulverized concrete, which causes silicosis,” according to New York Magazine. “According to an analysis last September, 17 years after the terrorist attacks, close to 10,000 first responders had been diagnosed with cancer, and over 2,000 deaths had been attributed to illnesses caused by the attacks. By the end of last year, it was estimated that more people had died from toxic exposure from 9/11 than were killed in the actual attack.”
Unfortunately, the survivors have fought for years to receive health and death benefits after leaders like New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and EPA Chief Christine Todd Whitman initially downplayed the airborne risks.
In 2006, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) co-sponsored a bill that became the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which granted $7 billion for treatment services and medical benefits for 9/11 emergency workers and survivors.
Even that bill was in peril, however, as Republicans who considered it too expensive filibustered. Thankfully, it was passed in 2011, but one portion — the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, which supports health care costs for survivors — was authorized only until 2020.
That drew Stewart’s appearance in Washington as Congress considers a bill to fund that portion permanently. Once again, the comedian’s attention drew results as the committee approved the bill Wednesday for a vote on the House floor, where it is expected to pass.
The Republican-controlled Senate may be a different story, but we hope that the GOP supports our heroes this time. They responded without thinking about their own safety during a moment of national tragedy, and today we should support them in any way we can.