WASHINGTON – By a vote of 400–31, the “Fairness for 9/11 Families Act” was approved by the House on Friday, leaving many survivors and responders wondering why a similar bill is not advancing to shore up their underfunded health program.
As House leaders advanced a nearly $3 billion measure to level up compensation payments to more than 5,000 9/11 victims, spouses, and dependents, they failed to advance the healthcare bill, leaving some advocates grateful that some victims may get additional compensation but furious that the larger group needing health care remains in limbo.
The World Trade Center Health Program, which provides care and monitoring for some 118,000 people exposed to the toxins of Ground Zero, is facing a $3 billion deficit and will run out of funds by 2026.
“I was immediately angry — as soon as I found out about this surprise bill,” said Miriama James, a community advocate whose family lived just east of the Word Trade Center and has all suffered illness from the attacks. “How do you come out of nowhere and be prioritized above all the survivors and responders who need health care, who are also dying, and who have also lost family members?”
The anger is generally directed at Congress leaders, but specifically at House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y, whose committee has jurisdiction over terrorism compensation, and Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, which does health legislation.
Pallone put money for the health program in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation, but that bill never made it to the Senate, and Pallone has not heeded calls to advance a separate stand-alone bill for 9/11 health care, as is now happening with the compensation measure.
“Frank Pallone has no excuse for not moving the bill to get to $3 billion added to the health program,” 9/11 advocate John Feal told the Daily News. “Shame on Frank Pallone.”
However, Pallone said in a statement that the focus should be on the upper chamber. “The Senate, as usual, has failed to act,” said the New Jersey congressman. “I would encourage everyone to push the Senate if the program is to be reauthorized in this session of Congress. If the Senate supports it, we can include the funding in the end of the year spending bill.”
Similarly, Feal laid into Nadler for finding a way to get the compensation bill on the House floor for a vote while the health care money languishes, even though Nadler also supports the health program spending.
“Good for those people getting money, but Jerry Nadler just screwed over a whole lot more people that need the World Trade Center Health Program for survival,” Feal said, referring to the much larger population of ill 9/11 responders.