Thursday, December 2, 2010

Pols Push Senate to Pass 9/11 Health Bill

When the dust settled after 9/11, and the grieving process began, New York City started to notice that there were serious health risks for first responders, volunteers and area residents because of the airborne particles released when the towers fell.

In light of these health risks, the U.S. government has been trying to provide money for the rescue workers suffering from health complications. The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which remains stalled in Washington, would provide money to help evaluate and treat the rescue workers.

The bill passed the House in September 29, and now is awaiting a vote from the Senate. If the bill does not pass the Senate by the end of this year, the entire process would have to be restarted with the newly elected Congress.

This deadline has caused supporters of the bill to rally and urge the Senate to at least bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

On November 17, the City Council passed a resolution calling on the Senate to vote for and pass the bill. The Council resolution was heavily supported and sponsored by 22 Council Members including Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Karen Koslowitz (D-Kew Gardens).

“First responders didn’t hesitate to answer the call during and after the September 11th attacks. It is now time for the federal government to put politics aside and do the right thing for the people who are still suffering as a result of the toxic environment at Ground Zero,” said Ulrich after the Council Resolution passed. “Congress needs to pass this bill, and they need to do it now.”

Now, New York’s federal legislators are making a final push for the passage of the bill. On Monday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly unveiled a special exhibit of 29 police badges at the Russell Senate Office Buildings next to the U.S. Capitol. These badges belonged to the brave police officers who died responding to the 9/11 attacks.

“These badges are much more than a symbol of the men and women we’ve lost. These shields should serve as a call to action—a call for us to do what’s right and pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act now,” Gillibrand said. “The men and women who lived through 9/11 and came to our rescue on that day were not Democrats or Re- publicans or Independents—they were Americans. Now we have a duty to provide them the health care and compensation they and their family need.”

Gillibrand was joined by fellow lawmakers including Senator Charles Schumer and Representatives Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) and Peter King (R-Long Island) and police labor groups.

“I fear this is the last chance to pass this bill,” Weiner said. “The heroes who rushed to help their neighbors on 9/11 have waited far too long.How many more badges do we need to see before we give these men and women the care they deserve?”

According to the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC), there were 4,798 enrolled patients at the World Trade Center Environmental Health Center, which through various grants provides free health coverage for rescue workers and residents of the area suffering from 9/11 related problems. By 2011, the HHC projects the number of enrolled patients to rise to 5,902.

It is this rising number of illnesses related to 9/11 that are being reported that has many worried and pushing to pass the bill.

“In the past two weeks I’ve attended funeral services for two New York City police officers who died from toxic exposure while responding to the nation’s call on 9/11,” said Patrick Lynch, President of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. “More NYC police officers have now died since the attack than were killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D- Nevada) invoked Senate Rule 14 to bypass the committee process and bring the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act straight to the floor for consideration.

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