Politicians, first responders and advocates converged near the World Trade Center Monday to deride a Republican proposal that they claim guts the Zadroga Act and leaves firefighters, cops and others suffering toxic effects of 9/11 without the health care and compensation they deserve.
Congressional representatives Carolyn B. Maloney, Jerrold Nadler, Grace Meng, Frank Pallone, Nydia Velazquez and Steve Israel, were among those who spoke against a Republican proposal that critics complain extends the health care and compensation program for only five years, slashes the victims compensation fund by as much as 60%, and knocks down health care funding by $456 million.
The original Zadroga Act expired on Sept. 30.
"'Never forget' is more than a slogan and a bumper sticker," Maloney told the crowd of several dozen. Her bill, which would extend the law permanently, was "sailing toward passage" with broad bipartisan support when Paul Ryan was elected speaker on Thursday and Republicans released bills of their own that would cut benefits.
"We are not giving up. We are not accepting these flawed bills that would slash compensation and care," said Maloney, who vowed to keep fighting for an extension of benefits indefinitely. The illnesses first responders suffer, she noted, "are permanent."
The sponsors of last week's new legislation never talked to 9/11 survivors or first responders or to those who had crafted the reauthorizaion that now has 240 votes in the House and 61 co-sponsors in the Senate, noted Nadler.
"The U.S. has always prided itself that we don't leave our wounded on the battlefield," but ignoring the needs of first responders who breathed in "countless toxins," is an abandonment of injured warriors, he said.
Velazquez described the debt to first responders as "a sacred compact," and said it was "unconscionable and morally wrong not to fully fund the Zadroga Act."
John Feal, of the FealGood Foundation, excoriated what he called the Republicans' "[expletive] bill," noting he had made 18 trips to Washington D.C. this year to help push for the Reauthorization Act. He said later that 72,000 people -- 54,000 in the tri-state area -- are affected by the Zadroga Act.
Robert Alexander, 41, of Woodlawn in the Bronx, was an NYPD officer during 9/11 and one of several dozen people who expressed their support for a permanent extension.
"This is huge. It's everything, frankly," said Alexander, who was diagnosed with brain cancer last year. Now a marine engineer with the FDNY and currently out on a medical leave, he said there is "no wiggle room" to erode the provisions of the original legislation.
"People will die if this is not continued," he said.