September 11 Victim Fund Running Short; Urge Zadroga Act Renewal

Sarah Dorsey Chief Leader

Only a quarter of September 11 compensation claims have been settled by the Federal Government, but half the money has already been allocated, prompting supporters of the Zadroga Act to step up their demands for the bill’s renewal.

“It is clear from today’s report that Congress did not provide the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund with sufficient resources to adequately compensate all of those with injuries,” read a July 20 statement by Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act, after the VCF released its latest progress report. The group’s Board of Directors is made up of New York union leaders, and its Executive Director is U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s former Chief of Staff.

50 Cents on the Dollar? If the fund continues to be depleted at the current rate, ill and injured 9/11 victims—including first-responders—will receive just 50 to 60 percent of their promised awards, the advocates estimated.

“Congress needs to act and pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization (HR. 1786/S. 928) which will provide the funding needed to make sure these heroes and heroines, who are in every state, will get the help they need, deserve, and are expecting,” they said.

The Zadroga Act, signed into law in 2011 by President Obama after fierce opposition from fiscal conservatives in Congress, provides free medical care and monetary compensation for those sickened or injured in the terrorist attacks. But it was set to expire after five years, and advocates are now pushing hard for its renewal. Funds are provided for out-of-pocket medical costs, lost wages and other losses.

Sheila Birnbaum, the Special Master overseeing the program, noted that there is at least one registered claimant in every state, a fact that advocates hope will nudge members of Congress to renew the bill.

‘Make Fund Permanent’  Ms. Maloney, along with U.S. Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Peter King, all authors of the original 2010 Zadroga Act, released a statement urging that the fund be made permanent.

“Thousands of responders and survivors have lost their health and suffered economic hardship due to their injuries and the health conditions they experienced in the aftermath of 9/11,” they wrote. “The VCF is there to make these heroes whole again, with financial support and compensation for health coverage related to toxin exposure at Ground Zero. But the VCF can’t do that unless Congress fully funds the program and extends it permanently.”

By June 30, the VCF had approved 11,770 claimants as eligible for compensation and found 942 people ineligible. That’s about 4,700 moreapplicatons processed than on June 30, 2014. More than 5,500 claims were missing some information and could not be decided.

Awards for 5,636 claimants have been decided, worth more than $1.3 billion. That’s nearly half the total allocated by Congress. The vast majority of awards—nearly $1.2 billion worth—have been granted to first-responders to the Trade Center attacks, many of whom spent weeks dealing directly with the toxic dust at close range.

Average Payout $233G  The average award was $233,747, the lowest was $10,000, and the highest was $4.1 million. Nearly $911 million was granted to claimants who do not have cancer; the rest had at least one type of cancer among their conditions.

Zadroga supporters have so far encountered less resistance than during their original 2010 campaign. The renewal bill introduced in April would put the September 11 fund on par with other permanent health funds for injured workers, such as black-lung benefits for miners. If the law is not extended, the World Trade Center Health Program’s free medical care would expire in October. The VCF would end in October 2016.

Doctors and researchers continue to debate whether new types of illness should be eligible for Zadroga benefits. Cancer was not approved for coverage until 2012, and experts believe that many more cases are likely to appear, since many types of the disease take years—even decades—to develop.

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