Congress extends benefits lifetime health care benefits for 9/11 first responders

Congress has agreed to renew the James Zadroga Act

David Usborne
New York
Wednesday 16 December 2015 18:06 GMT
Jon Stewart urges Congress to extend healthcare benefits for first responders.
Jon Stewart urges Congress to extend healthcare benefits for first responders. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

After weeks of withering criticism for allowing a law providing free healthcare to emergency responders sickened by their work at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks to lapse, members of Congress have agreed to renew the programme and restore payments to families.

The more than 72,000 survivors and emergency responders enrolled in a programme set up in the wake of 9/11 that had guaranteed them free medical attention cried foul when it expired in October and further funding for it was denied. Many had traveled to Washington to beseech Congress to take action. The comedian and former Daily Show host Jon Stewart also became a spokesman for the group.

A bipartisan deal to renew the so-called James Zadroga Act, named after a New York fireman who died from respiratory disease in 2006 that was traced to the weeks he spent at the smoldering pile at Ground Zero after the attacks, is embedded in an omnibus federal spending and taxation bill for the upcoming financial year that both houses in Congress are expected to pass on Thursday.

The wider law, which President Barack Obama would be expected to sign before leaving for his Christmas holiday in Hawaii on Friday, means Congress has dodged what many feared would be a protracted fight over budget and tax priorities which continue to divide the two parties on the Hill.

The draft, agreed by negotiators from both sides of the aisle and from the White House, includes an end to the more than 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports from the US that dates back to the energy crisis of the early 1970s. President Obama had resisted such a move which oil companies had clamoured for.

Jon Stewart, the longtime host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, has been a long advocate for the bill, urging congress to extend the healthcare act.

In addition to ensuring the Zadroga Act remains fully funded until 2090, Congress will also extend for five years the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund that also provides support for survivors.

The measure was hailed by Democrats representing the region around New York. “We will never fully repay the sacrifices our first responders made following September 11th. All they ask of us is that we never forget - and Congress is now sending a clear message back: we haven't.” Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney said. “This is the strongest possible deal we could have negotiated in this Congress.”

“This is the Christmas the 9/11 responders deserved: some peace of mind for each and every hero. Their selfless actions in response to that tragic day deserve a lifetime's worth of care and respect,” added Charles Schumer, the senior US Senator from New York.

In a success for Republicans, the omnibus law delays taxes that were due to come into effect under the 2010 Affordable Healthcare Act, also known as Obamacare, threatening its future financial viability.

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