New York's political elite rallied with over one hundred 9/11 first responders in the shadow of the World Trade Center Sunday to push Congress to renew the Zadroga Act before the winter recess.
U.S. senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Mayor Bill de Blasio, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) and other elected officials said they were appalled when the legislation was dropped from a transportation package last week, thus putting in jeopardy the health care for 70,000 people who suffer from 9/11-related ailments.
Men and women who worked at Ground Zero and their families Sunday said they wouldn't rest until Washington takes meaningful action.
"Congress in D.C. wants to go on vacation next week. We want to go on with our lives," John Feal, a Ground Zero worker and activist, said at the rally outside 7 World Trade Center.
The Zadroga Act was first passed in 2010 and provides billions of dollars in treatment and financial aid for 9/11-related illnesses including asthma, sinusitis, obstructive pulmonary disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease and various cancers. It expired in October, but funding is still in place until next year.
Jon Stewart was a driving force in getting the bill passed the first time and he lobbied Congress again in September, which resulted in more House and Senate members signing on. Gillibrand said it's shameful that promises to bring the act's extension to a vote haven't come to pass.
"We don't need members of Congress to stand up and say, 'Never forget.' We need them to stand up and say, 'We need to pass the 9/11 bill now,'" she said.
Maloney said the health care assistance helped save the lives of thousands of first responders who suffered over the years and couldn't pay for their treatment.
FDNY Battalion Chief Eugene Kelty was one of the lucky ones.
Last year, the longtime fireman was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and went through several treatments that have cost him close to $290,000. In September, Kelty's doctors said his cancer was in remission.
"I'd tell them to take their fact finding committee and go to a cancer center and see what it's like and then go to the homes of those patients and see what it's like," he said.
U.S. Rep Jerry Nadler had harsher words for the elected officials who are delaying the process.
"If this bill doesn't pass we can legitimately call them American deserters," he said.