Volume 76, Number 36 | January 31 - February 6, 2007


Congress must fund 9/11 health programs

Like far too many other self-sacrificing men and women who searched for bodies at the World Trade Center site in 2001 and 2002, Police Officer Cesar Borja, 52, developed an illness that almost certainly was related to the toxic chemicals released into the air as a result of the collapse of the Twin Towers. His death came less than three hours before his son, Ceasar Borja, 21, was to attend President Bush’s State of the Union address as the guest of Senator Hillary Clinton. Borja wanted to ask the president and Congress for money to provide healthcare for his father and thousands of others who are suffering because of the attack.

Our thoughts and condolences go out to the Borja family.

Clinton, Congressmember Jerrold Nadler and others in Congress are pushing for $1.9 billion to continue a health program for 9/11 recovery workers. They also have a bill that would provide Medicare coverage to workers and residents who can demonstrate health damage related to the attack.

It is essential that both bills are passed. Medicare, one of the largest and most efficient programs in the history of government, should be able to easily absorb the infinitesimal increase in the number of people who would be added because of the bill.

The president was scheduled to appear at Ground Zero this Wednesday, where he was to announce another $25 million allocation of federal funds for the 9/11 recovery workers health program. At least this is something, but it’s obviously just a drop in the bucket compared to what Clinton and Nadler are asking for.

As the New York delegation tries to win support from the White House and in Congress, we assume it will be much easier to convince naysayers to go along with healthcare for police officers, firefighters and other recovery workers.

Health money for residents and office workers affected by the attack probably will be a much harder sell. Somewhere down the road there may be a hard-to-resist temptation to compromise and cut residents and office workers out of the bill in order to get it passed. Clinton, Nadler and the other co-sponsors should resist this temptation and make sure no one is sacrificed.

As Nadler said recently, an obstacle to passage will be the level of proof needed to get benefits. Whether one is talking about a firefighter who breathed the air from the toxic fires 12 hours a day for months or a Downtown family that still has toxic chemicals in hidden areas of their apartment, it’s difficult to prove the cause of any respiratory ailments with medical certainty. Autopsies may be helpful — but that’s too late.

Congress is right to be concerned about abuse of such programs, and proponents of the bill should work now to draft acceptable language on evidence and eligibility.

There are more than 2,749 victims of the attack Downtown. Just because some don’t know it yet does not mean these victims can be ignored when they discover the unfortunate truth.

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