A rookie Brooklyn lawmaker is being tapped by his veteran colleagues to lead the effort in making the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act a permanent government fund before its 2020 expiration date.
U.S. Rep. Max Rose, a Democrat who represents parts of Southwest Brooklyn and Staten Island, will spearhead an initiative to educate Capitol Hill newcomers about the Zadroga Act, which doles out settlements through the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund (VCF) to families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, ahead of a legislative battle to make the fund permanent.
“Sept. 11 wasn’t just an attack on New York, it was an attack on the United States of America. So we have to do more than never forget. We need to do right by the heroes who put their lives on the line and are now living with the consequences,” said Rose, a U.S. Army veteran who fought in Afghanistan.
The bill to save the VCF, the Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act, will be introduced later this month, according to Rose, eliminating the need for the fund to undergo periodic renewal.
The VCF was put in place months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler and Peter King were the original co-sponsors of the Zadroga Act, which was signed into law in 2011 by former President Barack Obama. The act provided health care for first responders and others whose health was severely affected by toxins at the World Trade Center and contained language that reauthorized the VCF.
Advocates for Sept. 11 first responders said Rose’s efforts to educate new members of Congress is necessary.
“After 14 years, 268 trips to D.C. and over 1,300 meetings, we find it necessary that members who weren’t in Congress during our last advocacy push for the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act need to be educated on the aftermath of 9/11/01 and need to know that many of those who are affected are their constituents,” said John Feal, a Sept. 11 health care advocate.
One thing that the new lawmakers might not know is that the first responders and Sept. 11 victims hailed from all over the country, not just New York, advocates said.
First responders and survivors who were adversely impacted by the toxins at Ground Zero, the Flight 93 crash site in Pennsylvania and the Pentagon hail from every state in the U.S. and live in 434 out of 435 districts in the House of Representatives.
Several lawmakers, including Rose, Maloney and King as well as U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, recently met with a group of New Yorkers to talk about the health problems, including several types of cancers, that 9/11 responders and survivors are facing.
To date, the VCF has paid out approximately $4 billion of the $7 billion originally appropriated. But officials in charge of the VCF warned that payments to victims might have to be cut by as much as 50-75 percent due to a flood of claims that has come in from victims eager to beat the 2020 deadline.
“For tens of thousands of responders and survivors living with and dying from 9/11-related illnesses, and the thousands more who may not yet know they are sick, the tragedy of 9/11 continues,” Nadler said. “We designed the Victims Compensation Fund to ensure that families battling these illnesses have the resources they need, but this money is already running out.”
Zeldin said the issue goes beyond politics. “This isn’t just a New York issue and this isn’t a Democratic or Republican Party platform or political football. This is a responsibility we all shoulder as Americans first and foremost,” he said.