About two months ago, I wrote a column about the plight of 9/11 first responders and the progress of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act.
To quickly recap: The Zadroga Act of 2010 authorized funding for health and compensation programs that directly serviced about 33,000 9/11 first responders across the country. Because of the toxic and dust-ridden conditions of Ground Zero, most of these responders incurred health problems — typically cancers or lung conditions — and desperately needed health services.
So, reauthorizing Zadroga seems like a no brainer, right? Well, unfortunately our Congress of 2015 does not wholeheartedly agree.
For starters, Congress let the 2010 Zadroga Act expire Oct. 1, leaving the health and compensation programs to rely on their financial reserves until they likely dissolve by September or October of 2016. And, in spite of recent increases in the number of congressional co-sponsors, the Zadroga Reauthorization Act now faces considerable opposition from House of Representatives committee chairs.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., proposed starting another five-year commitment with stiffly reduced funds and extending the compensation programs to victims of past acts of terror.
Call me crazy, but cutting funds to the programs and vaguely spreading the Zadroga Act’s thin resources seems a little misguided.
On the issue of timing, another five-year commitment isn’t good enough. As the son of a cancer survivor, I can personally vouch that the No. 1 focus of a cancer victim should be recovery, not lobbying congressional representatives.
Former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart articulated it best in mid-September on Capitol Hill when he said, "These illnesses that they have are not on five-year cycles…these are permanent illnesses causing permanent damage." We are dealing with what is, for many of these first responders, a life-or-death situation.
On the issue of funding, a permanent Zadroga bill would be expensive, sure. Over the next 10 years, it would cost about $8 to $11 billion for the compensation program and $3.5 billion for the health programs.
But let’s pause and think about other spending ventures. The total cost for the 2016 election, for example, will amount to an estimated $5 billion. Moreover, according to a U.S. Department of Defense report released Oct. 31, the cost of U.S. operations in Iraq and Syria has totaled $5 billion since August 2014. The money is there; it’s just a matter of what we’re doing with it.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this story is the Zadroga Reauthorization Act, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, has, as of press time, 64 co-sponsors in the Senate and 246 in the House — more than enough support to pass if it were voted on now.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s discretion ultimately stands in the way. The speaker of the house determines which bills move to the House floor for a vote, so the future progress of the Zadroga Reauthorization Act — whether the original act or Rep. Goodlatte’s bill proposal makes the floor — is very much in the hands of Ryan.
An unfortunate truth, which Russell Berman of The Atlantic highlighted in his column Friday, is that 9/11 is losing political potency. As the years go on, more people grow further detached from 9/11, and more aspects of our society refer to it as just another event in history — with the exception of a few #NeverForget tweets and History Channel specials on the anniversary.
I think it’s about time we gave our first responders more than just a hashtag or moment of silence. If you feel so inclined, please feel free to call Ryan’s office to voice your concerns over the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act and the plight of 9/11 first responders.
Ryan’s office number is 202-225-3031.
David Hoffman is a UF history and physics sophomore. His column appears on Tuesdays.