It’s a slap in the face to our emergency responders that worked at Ground Zero. It’s an insult to our citizens who continue to suffer from that horrible day on 9/11/2001. And it’s a sad reflection on where we are in society these days.
Officials announced today that the 9/11 fund, which takes care of people who are sick or dying from the toxins unleashed on that fateful day, will slash payments by at least 50%.
People who discovered their illness or got sick later in the game, applying after February 1 of this year, will see much deeper cuts – 70%.
Among many of those who will be affected are police officers, firefighters and EMS who combed through the rubble for days on end.
Back in 2015, Congress relaunched the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund with $7.375 billion to cover claims running through December 2020.
But here’s the thing. The money is being blown through at an unexpected rate, with more than $5 billion already having been given to the more than 20,000 people suffering and dying from cancer, breathing problems and trauma.
That leaves just $2 billion for those already enrolled, and thousands more are expected to apply before it expires in 2020.
As a matter of fact, there are some 11,000 additional claims and 7,000 amended claims expected to be filed before the deadline.
The fund’s special master Rupa Bhattacharyya commented on the cuts.
“I am painfully aware of the inequity of the situation. I also deeply regret that I could not honor my intention to spare any claim submitted prior to this announcement from any reductions made due to a determination of funding insufficiency,” she said. “But the stark reality of the data leaves me no choice. If there had been a different option available to me, I assure you I would have taken it.”
Why the shortfall? There are several factors.
First, there’s been a huge jump in the number of emergency responders and victims who are dying. This January, for example, saw a 235% surge in death claims compared to the end of 2015.
Cancer is also exploding among those impacted. There were 8,000 cancer claims ruled eligible for compensation by the end of 2018 – which is now a third of all claims, compared to a little more than a fifth of claims in the previous compensation fund that expired after 2015.
As more people die, more survivors are applying. In the last fund, 14% of claims were from survivors compared to 35% now.
The executive director for Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act weighed in on the growing tragedy.
“The number of people coming forward with illnesses and cancers related to their exposure to toxins at Ground Zero grows every single day,” said Benjamin Chevat. “Every other day another 9/11 responder or survivor reportedly dies from a 9/11 related cancer.”
The Victims’ Compensation Fund is run by the Trump administration’s Department of Justice, and there’s hope that Congress will reverse course from past mistakes.
There’s been an unwillingness by many members of Congress in the past to back a permanent compensation fund. Advocates are pushing for new legislation in hopes of providing a longer solution that doesn’t need to be renewed every five years.
How has it happened in the past? By cops, firefighters and other emergency responders making the trip to Washington with wheelchairs, crutches and oxygen tanks to shame Congress into doing the right thing. So far they’ve only succeeded in securing temporary compensation funds.
The sad irony of all of this, of course, is that New York City announced this year a plan to pay for the health care insurance costs for 600,000 city residents who don’t have healthcare, including those people here illegally, making it the largest city in the nation to guarantee coverage.
It’s expected to cost at least $100 million a year and expand on the city’s public option plan. State lawmakers are pushing the entire state to take up the same approach.
According to Governor Andrew Cuomo, the cost could double the state’s roughly $170 billion budget.