By YANNIC RACK | Workers and volunteers that were part of the rescue and cleanup operations in the aftermath of 9/11 only have a few days left to register for future wage replacement or health benefits in case they might fall ill as a result of their work.
In a final push to get the word out to tens of thousands of people that haven’t registered yet with the Workers Compensation Board, advocacy groups warned at a press conference on Friday that the final deadline on this year’s 9/11 anniversary is fast approaching.
“People don’t realize that you should register even if you don’t have symptoms because it’s like an insurance policy,” said Charlene Obernauer, executive director of NYCOSH, the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health and Safety, said on the steps of City Hall.
U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes the World Trade Center, said he was planning to sign up this week, and has also urged his staff to register. “I was not a worker or a volunteer but I spent a lot of time down there, talking to people on the site and in the area,” he said after the press conference.
The speakers, which also included Community Board 1 chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes and other workers’ rights advocates, urged people to register even if they don’t have any health problems yet.
Nadler added that “it’s safe to take the precaution and sign up. You’re not making a claim, you’re simply saying, ‘I was there’, and you’re preserving your right to claim if, god forbid, something happens in the future and you need to file a claim.”
NYCOSH’s Obernauer explained that one of the biggest hurdles in getting people to sign up was that many didn’t realize they are eligible or would even consider themselves part of post-9/11 operations.
Assemblymember Michael DenDekker, who was supervising cleanup operations for the Department of Sanitation at the time, said some eligible workers “figure that on Sept. 11, I worked in the corner shoe store or bodega or little kitchen, and we left and came back six days, seven days, eight days later, when they let us go back in. And the first thing we did was clean the place up so we could get back open.
“What they don’t understand is that, as they were cleaning the place up, they were becoming exposed. So those workers are entitled to apply for this kind of compensation in case they get sick in the future.”
The area of participation is also not limited to the area south of Canal St in Manhattan, but includes Fresh Kills on Staten Island (where all the debris was taken), the barges, piers and morgues.
NYCOSH estimates that around 40,000 people have so far signed up for the program, although Obernauer said that up to 400,000 could be eligible for benefits overall. More than 2,000 workers have received benefits so far and the indemnity awards paid out total over $129 million.
Nadler and advocacy groups have worked to extend the registration deadline numerous times in recent years but warn that this could be the last chance to register.
Workers that participated in rescue, recovery and cleanup efforts up until a year after 9/11 have until this Thursday, Sept. 11, to fill out and file a so-called WTC-12 form. The form needs to be notarized and can be handed in at any Workers’ Compensation Board office.