After years of debate and delay, Congress has finally passed a bill to ensure that first responders who suffered health problems after responding to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks will receive health care and other compensation for as long as they live.
The Senate voted 97-2 to permanently authorize funding for 9/11 victims by passing the Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act on Tuesday. The House passed the bipartisan legislation on July 12.
The measure ensures that first responders and workers injured by toxins during the rescue and cleanup effort who developed certified 9/11-related illnesses, as well as family members of these fallen heroes, receive full compensation from the fund.
In a statement, AFSCME President Lee Saunders recognized the sacrifices made by 9/11 responders.
“On September 11, 2001, first responders answered the call to protect their neighbors. In the aftermath, brave public service workers of all kinds spent months healing and rebuilding their communities,” said Saunders. “In doing so, they were exposed to toxins that have led to debilitating illnesses and even death.”
Thinking only of their community and their neighbors, first responders who included AFSCME members, rushed into danger in the aftermath of the attacks to search for the survivors, recover the dead and begin the long process of rebuilding. They had no idea the level of dangerous toxins and other hazards present at the crash sites to which they were exposed.
AFSCME Retiree Edward Hysyk, the president of AFSCME District Council 37 (New York) Retirees Association was, in 2001, the president of Local 2627, New York City’s 4,000-member unit for electronic data processing personnel. He and his fellow AFSCME members worked to restore the city’s data lines across nearly every city agency. Hysyk on Wednesday described the response by his fellow AFSCME members to the 9/11 attacks simply as “awe inspiring.”
That advocacy and dedication continues in people like former case worker Caryle-Linda Rosenblatt, chapter chair of the Central Florida Chapter of DC 37 Retirees, who, after hearing stories of Florida retirees who were at Ground Zero in 2001 and are now suffering illnesses as a result, have made it their personal cause to help members register for the 9/11 fund.
The 9/11 Victim’s Compensation Fund had cut back on payments to victims. And its re-authorization had remained uncertain, prompting widespread backlash. Now, the legislation just passed by Congress and expected to be signed into law by President Donald Trump, will fix the imminent funding shortfall and allow victims to file claims through October 2089.
“It is indefensible that these men and women should receive anything less than the full compensation they deserve for the sacrifice they have made,” Saunders said. “Just as we have pledged to never forget those who died on that tragic day, we must not abandon those who showed selfless heroism in the rescue and recovery efforts.”
AFSCME applauds Congress for the bipartisan effort to pass this legislation, preventing this critical program from expiring.