Dozens of city firefighters will rally Wednesday in Washington, D.C. to push Congress to extend federal health benefits for 9/11 first responders, and they're bringing one of their biggest supporters.
Jon Stewart will join the Bravest and other firefighters from around the country for a day of lobbying to prevent the Zadroga Act from expiring. The former "Daily Show" host was instrumental in getting the act passed in 2010 after he called out several congress members who didn't support the bill for their apparent hypocrisy.
The firefighters' union chief said he hopes Stewart can get the ball rolling for the renewal.
"Some of them will be shaking in their boots knowing Jon Stewart will put the spotlight on them," said Richard Alles, the Uniformed Fire Officers Association (UFOA) legislative director, during a news conference .
The Zadroga Act gives 70,000 responders and 9/11 survivors $4 billion for medical monitoring and financial help to cope with illnesses. The health care portion of the act expires next month and the money for the services will be depleted by October 2016 if the law isn't renewed.
Rep Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan), who is co-sponsoring the bill with other house members, including Rep. Pete King (R-Nassau), said the supporters want to renew the bill and remove the expiration date altogether.
At least 3,700 responders have been diagnosed with cancers, according to the UFOA, and the congresswoman said more will show signs of disaeses in coming years.
"The illness will be with them for the rest of their lives. Why does it stop after five years?" she asked.
She said the bill was a nonstarter back in 2010 until Stewart featured 9/11 first responders on his show and juxtaposed clips of the bills opponents thanking those men and women while filibustering the bill.
As of Monday, the bill's renewal had 150 sponsors, 68 shy of what it needs to pass the House, while the Senate had 36 sponsors.
The UFOA will take 100 members on a bus Wednesday morning and meet with their comrades from other states at a rally with Stewart at the Capital Triangle. From there they will speak with several key figures in Congress, such as House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and make their case to renew the act as soon as possible.
Union president James Lemonda, stressed the bill affects all first responders who face terror attacks and there is a lot more at stake if it lapses.
"This is not a New York City bill. This is not an FDNY bill ... This is all encompassing and we are fighting for everybody," he said.