Politicians, labor officials, advocates and responders gathered near Ground Zero Monday -- three days before the 13th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks -- to pledge extending the federal James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act for 25 years beyond 2016, when funding is set to expire.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan), Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) and Peter King (R-Seaford) said they will introduce legislation later this month to continue programs funded under the law through 2041.
"We will do everything we need to do to get this legislation passed," Gillibrand said Monday. "It shouldn't take a 'Christmas miracle' to do the right thing."
It took advocates and the New York delegation years and overcoming often bitter partisan fighting to pass the $4.3 billion Zadroga bill in late December 2010 -- the so-called Christmas miracle.
Under the law, $2.8 billion was set aside to compensate people made ill by exposure to toxins at Ground Zero. Another $1.5 billion has been allocated over five years to fund the World Trade Center Health Program, which monitors about 67,000 responders.
Maloney said she did not want to wait until closer to the law's expiration to begin building support for the reauthorization.
"Illnesses will not expire in 2016," she said, referring to the more than 30,000 responders who have been diagnosed with an illness or injury related to 9/11.
King said he anticipated getting the law passed would "take an all-out effort."
"This is an American issue," he said. "We have to make sure that these warriors won't be abandoned."
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also joined the rally, pledging his support.
"This should not be a debate but simply a march to action," he said.
John Feal, founder of the advocacy group FealGood Foundation, said he was almost arrested in 2010 in his attempts to get the Zadroga bill passed. "Failure is not an option. I'm prepared to almost get arrested again," he said.
More than 30,000 responders have been certified as having one or more 9/11-associated illness or injury; two-thirds of them have two or more illnesses, according to February statistics from the World Trade Center Program. About 2,800 have been diagnosed with cancer -- a number experts fear will grow, as cancers can take decades to appear.
"Now we're 3 1/2 years into Zadroga and people have all these illnesses we feared they were going to have," said Dr. Michael Crane, director of the World Trade Center clinical center at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. "And it's still early. We want to have the funding to continue . . . We can't start this and walk away from these people."