“Never forget!” cries the Republican Party when they invoke the ghosts of 9/11, usually to justify their jingoistic plots to unleash death and terror upon the civilians of foreign nations. But it would appear when it actually comes to taking care of the victims of that tragic day, they forget rather quickly. The James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act, which provides critical medical care for those who became sick after working around the collapsed towers, expired on Wednesday and was not renewed before Congress recessed.
Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.) penned a strongly worded op-ed in the Hill, slamming their colleagues for their inaction: “We never intended for this important legislation to expire so quickly, but, once again, Washington politics got in the way. We now know 33,000 first responders and survivors across the country suffer from at least one 9/11-related illness or injury, and many have multiple, severe illnesses that impact their lives every day, including 4,000 responders and survivors with cancer.”
While the program is funded through 2016, the failure to renew the bill has been roundly criticized by many, including former Daily Show host Jon Stewart. Republicans approve of the extension in theory, but want to be able to periodically renew it in case “they say they want the chance to periodically review it and make sure it is operating soundly,” which is code for “in case they aren’t starving the beast hard enough and have to cut funding from somewhere”.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden said if the law isn’t extended, “the World Trade Center Health Program ‘will begin to face significant operational challenges’ by February. By next summer, the program’s 72,000 enrolled beneficiaries will have to be notified that they may not receive health care beyond September 2016 and the program will have to start to shut down. Frieden said that process could cause patients additional stress.
The legislators from New York summed the issue up perfectly in their brutally moving letter:
Fourteen years ago, we gathered on the steps of the Capitol and vowed to never forget. We must not walk away.
Passing a permanent reauthorization of the Zadroga Act would put to rest the question of whether “never forget 9/11” is just a slogan on a bumper sticker or a sacred commitment by public servants to those who risked so much and lost so much that day. If Congress fails to act, that question will answer itself.
Your move, Congress.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.