NEW YORK (AP) — Days before the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, elected officials from New York called on Congress to reauthorize federal legislation to compensate first responders who became ill working at ground zero.
On Monday, standing in the shadow of the nearly completed One World Trade Center, Democratic U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand led the bipartisan push to renew the Zadroga Act, which provides medical treatment and compensation for the workers.
The two main components of the law are set to expire in 2015 and 2016.
"For Congress to not continue to fulfill its undeniable moral obligation by reauthorizing these programs ... our government will have turned its back on these heroes," Gillibrand said. "That's not who we are as Americans."
The Zadroga Act, named after a responder who died after working at ground zero, became law in 2010. Its two components — a victims compensation fund and a medical treatment fund — have paid out more than $1.1 billion.
The elected officials, who pointed to medical studies that link a variety of illnesses and cancers to the toxins spread by the World Trade Center collapse, said Monday that they want to reauthorize it for 25 more years.
"We cannot allow it to be said that in 13 years, that's how long we remembered 9/11," Democratic U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler said. "We cannot allow that to be said. It would be a moral stain on this generation and on the United States."
The original bill was whittled down from $7.4 billion to $4.3 billion and passed after years of debate. Those who opposed the bill said they doubted the science behind the links between cancers and ground zero and suggested that police and firefighters already had enough health care coverage.
The elected officials said they didn't know how much the reauthorization would cost but stressed that it was imperative for the bill to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
"This is not a Republican issue. This is not a Democratic issue. This is an American issue," said Republican U.S. Rep. Peter King. "We have an obligation as Americans to provide them with the health care that they need, the families the compensation that they need."
The new bills are expected to be introduced in both houses of Congress this month.
"This should not be a debate," said Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat. "This should be simply a march to action to help those in need."