On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 I was driving into New York City for work. In truth, most Americans remember where they were that dark day. But judging from the federal government’s unacceptable delay in reauthorizing the Zadroga Act, some members of Congress seem to have forgotten.
We all know of the great courage and bravery exhibited by New York’s Finest, the FDNY, thousands of volunteers, doctors and nurses on 9/11. Yet, Congress is making our rescue workers wait in limbo – 15 years later – to ensure they have the health care and financial support they need and deserve. This is appalling.
Congress – specifically Republican leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – must act now to pass a full and permanent extension of the Zadroga Act. To continue to allow petty, partisan politics to run roughshod over our nation’s moral obligation to protect our people is unconscionable.
Across the country, more than 33,000 survivors suffer from at least one illness related to cleanup at the World Trade Center site, and more than 72,000 receive health monitoring services as a result of the toxic chemicals and debris. When these brave men and women hurried to the twin towers that day they didn’t ask the questions. They didn’t wait for masks or equipment. They rushed into danger and did the right thing. It’s immoral for Congress not to stand up for them now.
Under the Zadroga Act, the World Trade Center Health Program and the Victims Compensation Fund provide services and support to recovery workers, survivors, and those who lived, worked and went to school in Lower Manhattan during 9/11.
But when Congress failed to act again in October, the Zadroga Act expired – leaving our local heroes in a perpetual state of uncertainty. And with the fund expected to run dry in a matter of weeks, hundreds of vital programs that 9/11 workers and their families rely on will cease to exist.
Failing to help those who risked their lives to save their fellow New Yorkers goes against everything this country stands for. The Zadroga Act gives widowed parents peace of mind that they will be able to put food on the table for their families. It helps firefighters, who inhaled deadly debris while working at Ground Zero, to breathe easier and get the treatment they need. It gives the more than 4,000 people living with 9/11-related cancers hope that they too can overcome their illness and move on with their lives.
While the federal government continues to let Washington gridlock stand in the way of this bill, a strong coalition of New York officials has lead the fight for its passage. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, Sen. Charles Schumer and so many of our partners in other states have worked tirelessly to ensure funding won’t be lost and these families won’t be abandoned by those sworn to protect them.
McConnell should lead Republicans in joining them, because the American people deserve more than broken promises, empty actions and political maneuvering by its Congress.
Andrew M. Cuomo is governor of New York.