Dollars Over Cents: Funding 9/11 Survivors and Workers

Our first line of defense against foreign and domestic terrorists is our military. Our second line of defense are the people who come to save us when these catastrophic events take place– first responders. On 9/11, downtown New York City was flooded with first responders from all over the area who were ready to face tragedy with bravery, regardless of the consequence.

The collapse of the World Trade Center buildings, left a large and lingering cloud of dust, debris and sadness on the state of our country. The focus on rescue and clean up was the first priority for New Yorkers. An article published by CNN in 2002 states that it took workers eighteen months to clean up more than 1.8 million tons of debris which included asbestos, lead, mercury and concrete. The remains of 2,823 victims killed at Ground Zero were claimed there. Among them were 343 New York firefighters and 70 police officers in the ashes.

As survivors and loved ones grieved, America geared up for the War on Terror that still hasn’t quite finished some eighteen years later. Throughout the years, Ground Zero related illnesses began sweeping across New York. Health has been significantly altered for the first responders, survivors, workers, and anyone who is the area during the time of collapse and the clean up. An article from Newsweek highlighted the severity of health effects of the survivors.

 Doctors with the World Trade Center Health Program, which the federal government created in the aftermath of the attacks, have linked nearly 70 types of cancer to Ground Zero. Many people have fallen victim to cancers their doctors say are rare, aggressive and particularly hard to treat. “The diseases stemming from the World Trade Center attacks include almost all lung diseases, almost all cancers—such as issues of the upper airways, gastroesophageal acid reflux disease, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, panic and adjustment disorders,” says Dr. David Prezant, co-director for the Fire Department of the City of New York’s World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program.

The Victim Compensation Fund, which ran from 2001-2004, was created to help victims who were personally injured by the attacks. In order to offset the continuing medical costs and other mounting expenses, a rash of funds were created to assist families.

In 2004, White Plains attorney, David Worby filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of clean up workers against the city of New York, the Port Authority and other contractors. The result awarded the workers $1 billion in settlement money.

 The effects of working at Ground Zero quickly became a battle that many were not prepared for. In 2006, a law was signed by Governor Pataki to award more death benefit payments to the families of the workers who had passed away due to their work at the site.

Later in 2006, the James Zadroga 9/11 First Responders Health and Compensation Act was introduced to cover the treatment and costs of medical benefits for workers and survivors, valued at $4.3 billion. Individuals who had gotten cancer and experienced other very extensive ailments couldn’t afford treatment to stay alive. They pushed for the Zadroga Act to become official and it did in 2011. The Victim Compensation Fund was also reactivated in 2011 and was cleared to run until 2016, but the funding proved not to be enough.

In 2011, the Zadroga act was authorized for 90 years while the VCF only allowed claimants to make claims until December 18, 2020. The VCF issued a statement, that as of February 2019 alerting claimants that no funds were available to cover all pending and projected claims.

It’s estimated that since September 11, 2001, at least 10,000 first responders have been diagnosed with cancer and more than 2,000 people have died due to toxic fumes at Ground Zero. Healthcare costs associated with chronic or terminal conditions in America can easily extend pasts the hundreds of thousands. Families that relied on the funding are dealing with extreme hardship and still need help. This reignited the call for funding from Congress.

On July 23, 2019 after years of battling legislators for funding, The House signed a bill to allocate $10.2 billion into the VCF over the next 10 years and to guarantee its reauthorization until 2092. The battle comes as a bittersweet victory after many have suffered and passed away while waiting for its resurgence.

It is a final recognition of the service of the first responders and volunteers that put their lives on the line to help their fellow neighbor. After 9/11, American’s pledged to one another that we’d never forget and now it’s insured that legislators won’t either.