Newsday
December 10, 2010

 

Police Unions, Kelly Push For Zadroga Bill in D.C.

Senate Republicans Balking

By FLORA FAIR

Patrick J. Lynch: "Never let them out."  
Captains Endowment Association photo  
'HELP THOSE WHO RESPONDED FOR THEIR NATION': Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, flanked by police union leaders and members of New York's Congressional delegation, makes the case for the Zadroga Bill to benefit those who became ill due to exposure to toxins while working in the World Trade Center recovery and clean-up efforts, saying, "As a nation we owe them and their families our support.'     

In a final push before a scheduled Dec. 8 vote on the measure, New York U.S. Senators and union leaders delivered New York City Police badges to Washington, D.C. on Nov. 30, with an urgent message for Senators: 9/11 responders are dying while the Zadroga Bill stalls.

Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) joined NYPD Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, 9/11 survivors and others to present the 29 NYPD badges at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington. The badges belonged to cops who died from exposure to toxins during the rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero.

‘A Call to Action’

“These shields are much more than a symbol of the men and women whom we’ve lost; they are also a call to action,” Senator Gillibrand said during a phone press conference.

“This powerful exhibit reminds us that the attacks of Sept. 11th were, first and foremost, attacks upon America,” Mr. Kelly said. “Those who responded heroically that day and in the months that followed did so on behalf of the entire nation. And as a nation we owe them and their families our support.”

He was referring to the 9/11 James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act, which would provide $7.4 billion over the next decade for monitoring and treatment of sickened 9/11 workers and community members through the World Trade Center Health Program. The bill had been languishing in the lame-duck session of Congress despite passage in the House of Representatives because Senate Republicans until last week had vowed to take no legislative action until a determination was made on the Bush tax cuts. Most House Republicans opposed the measure, with some charging it was an unfunded mandate that primarily benefited New York.

50,000-Plus Being Treated

Among the badges displayed was that of James Zadroga, the bill’s namesake and the first NYPD officer whose death was attributed to toxic exposure during his work at the WTC site.

In 2010 alone, 13,956 WTC responders received treatment for 911-related illnesses. There are more than 50,000 New Yorkers from 58 counties enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Registry, which monitors the health effects of toxic exposure at Ground Zero. Of those, nearly 39,000 are New York City residents.

So far, 58 Democrats and one Republican Senator have committed to passing the legislation. That single Republican vote would come from Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois. Senator Gillibrand said that “he’s eager to help,” and that a dozen more Republican Senators are considering voting for the bill.

“This should not be a partisan issue... We have an undeniable, moral obligation to pass this legislation,” she said. “The men and women who lived through 9/11 and came to our rescue on that day were not Democrats or Republicans or Independents—they were Americans. Now we have a duty to provide them the health care and compensation they and their family need.”

The bill was fast-tracked for floor consideration, avoiding a lengthy committee process that could have stalled or killed it before a vote. But it still faces opposition over its funding, paid for by a provision that taxes the U.S. income of certain multinational corporations. Ms. Gillibrand says the provision is merely closing a corporate tax loophole, but it makes some Republicans nervous.

Haven’t Offered An Alternative

“Many Republican Senators are uncomfortable doing tax policy at this time,” she said, adding that none of them have offered an alternative. Senator Gillibrand and other lawmakers pushing for the bill have given Republicans other ideas for funding, which she declined to specify.

The Senate version of the bill was changed slightly from the House version, which passed in the House of Representatives in September with just 17 Republican votes. If the funding method is changed, then the revised bill if approved would have to go back to the House for another vote.

Senator Gillibrand said she is still optimistic: “My sense is that the people want to help these 9/11 heroes; they just want to find a way to do it.”

Also in attendance at the press conference were leaders from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Detectives Endowment Association, Lieutenants Benevolent Association, Captains Endowment Association, and Sergeants Benevolent Association, all of whom made their own appeals to Congress.

“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 J. Lynch, president of the PBA. “More NYC police officers have now died since the attack than were killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center. And there are 84 more NYC police officers fighting gallantly for their lives as we stand here today... It is time for the U.S. Senate to stand up and do what is right and cast their vote in favor of the Zadroga bill.”

DEA: Zadroga Won't Be Last

DEA President Michael J. Palladino agreed. “The time to pass the legislation is now,” he said. “Detective Zadroga was the first, but won’t be the last to succumb to a 9/11-related illness. Many first-responders are counting on the medical monitoring and treatment this bill would provide.”

CEA leader Roy T. Richter recalled the hazardous scene at the WTC site, where they worked among “airborne toxins, burning rubble and pulverized structures without adequate safety equipment.”

“There is no end in sight to the ever-growing list of 9/11 casualties,” said SBA President Ed Mullins. “While I applaud Senator Gillibrand and the other elected officials who have worked hard to get this bill passed, it is disheartening and downright disappointing to know that some of their colleagues are using these selfless heroes as political pawns... It’s about time that everyone involved put politics aside and just did the right thing.”

Gillibrand: Offers Accountability

There are 53,352 first-responders from 9/11 enrolled in medical monitoring at centers around the country. But the lack of centralization makes coordination and accountability difficult. Senator Gillibrand said the Zadroga Bill would address these issues.

“I want to emphasize one incredibly important aspect of the bill that gets overlooked—transparency,” she said, referring to a single, third-party administrator that would replace the six billing systems currently used to deal with 9/11-related medical treatment.

At the local level, there would be a community program set up in New York to provide initial health screenings, treatment, and monitoring to eligible individuals who lived, worked, or were present in the vicinity of the WTC site for a certain period. The city would have to contribute a 10-percent matching cost of the bill’s health program—up to $500 million over 10 years.

Other Key Benefits

In addition to diagnosis and treatment of WTC-related illnesses, the bill would expand support for the WTC Health Registry and offer grants for mental-health care. It would also reopen the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) until 2031 to allow for delayed claims.

The NYPD badge exhibit, on loan from the New York City Police Museum, will be on display for a week in Washington. It also features sketches from courtroom artist Aggie Kenny, depicting the first-responders who stayed at Ground Zero around the clock during rescue and recovery efforts.