State extends September 11 task force for five years

Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle

A bipartisan bill sponsored by two Brooklyn lawmakers to extend the life of a September 11 task force that assists first responders has been signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo signed into law legislation to extend the September 11 Worker Protection Task Force Act for another five years. The extension allows the task force to continue helping those who have been afflicted with disabilities as a result of working at the World Trade Center (WTC) in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attack, according to state Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-Southwest Brooklyn), who pushed the legislation through the state Senate.

Politicians who sponsored the bill in the senate. Photo courtesy Golden’s office

Politicians who sponsored the bill in the senate. Photo courtesy Golden’s office

Assemblymember Peter Abbate (D-Bensonhurst-Sunset Park) was the Assembly sponsor of the bill.

“The task force has played a critical role in helping many of those who were exposed to hazards at Ground Zero,” Golden said. “Now, it will continue to operate and we can make sure that we assist all in need appropriately.”

The task force was created under the Pataki Administration to provide assistance to public employees who worked at the WTC site in the aftermath of the attack. The panel’s mandate has been extended periodically since it was first formed.

The task force is composed of six members appointed by the governor, three who are selected by the state Senate and three who are picked by the Assembly speaker. The appointees include doctors and union representatives. In addition, the membership includes the commissioners of the New York state Departments of Health and Labor, the New York state comptroller, the New York City comptroller, the city’s mayor, the director of the New York State Division on the Budget and the commissioner of the state’s Department of Civil Service.

It was important to extend the task force’s work, according to Abbate, who said many first responders are just now learning they have serious illnesses, nearly 14 years after September 11.

“We have ongoing effects of 9/11,” he told the Eagle on Wednesday. “We find out every day that we have more illnesses and different types of illnesses. Sometimes, these illnesses take years to develop.”

First responders have developed cancer, respiratory ailments and other illnesses, Abbate said.

Many public employees, including cops, firefighters, correction officers, sanitation workers and civilians, provided rescue, recovery and cleanup help at the WTC site and other designated locations, said Golden, who is a retired police officer.

If public employees were exposed to toxins and can no longer perform their jobs, the law that created the task force allows employees to apply for an accidental disability retirement benefits.

The disability applications are subject to the state’s Retirement System Review Process. It would have to be proven with evidence that an individual’s illness or injury was caused by exposure to toxic elements at the WTC site.

Abbate told the Eagle that he has heard from many families of first responders over the years who have expressed their gratitude that the state is looking out for their loved ones.

He also noted that the latest five-year extension of the task force will bring the panel’s work “almost to the point of the 20th anniversary of the attacks.”

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