Marcy Borders was a bank clerk. But for 14 years, she was known as “the dust lady,” because of the well-known photo that captured her image after she escaped from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Borders died last month from stomach cancer. She was 42.
Stories like Borders’ are all too common. People are dying, from those who fled as the buildings collapsed to those who ran in to help, and the many who worked at the site for weeks afterward. And instead of doing all it can for those who are still living, Congress is making a tragic situation even worse.
The 9/11 World Trade Center Health Program expires this fall. It’s one of two programs — the other is the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund — under the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The act became law in early 2011, and had a five-year window.
Time’s almost up. Soon, those who are ill won’t know whether their medication and treatment will be covered. By next year, the funding will dry up altogether. David Howley, a former NYPD officer who worked at Ground Zero and has fought neck cancer and other illnesses, is among many now fighting Congress just to continue the programs that kept him alive.
Howley shouldn’t have to fight this fight. It’s time for the absurdity to end. Congress must make the act permanent — so the tens of thousands of victims battling disease and injury from the 9/11 attacks can stop making the trek to Washington to plea with lawmakers.
It must become our battle, too.
More than 33,000 people are ill or injured related to the Sept. 11 attacks, and more than 70,000 are being monitored for possible symptoms and illnesses. There are residents from all 50 states, and all but six congressional districts.
They include your neighbors, friends, family members and heroes.
There were injuries suffered, and plenty of mental health concerns. Then there’s the “dust” — the debris that rained down as the Trade Center collapsed. It was a shower of pulverized evil — from shards of glass and airplane fuel chemicals to a host of carcinogens, such as asbestos. And when it settled, responders were surrounded by it.
They worked tirelessly. Then, they got sick. Enough is enough.
Any debate over the 9/11 health programs is full of what makes us hate the politics of Washington. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, and others in New York are leading the charge to reauthorize the act and make the programs permanent. Perhaps their colleagues will come to their senses. But, as King says, “Never, at this stage, discount the dysfunction.”
This isn’t about the program’s logistics. No one’s saying there are abuses. Gillibrand is committed to finding the money, which could amount to $400 million a year for just the health piece. (There’s no estimate for victim compensation, but as of June, $1.3 billion had been doled out.)
And there’s precedent. Sick coal miners don’t have to beg Congress for treatment funding because the Black Lung Benefits Act has no expiration.
The problem is more complex than just the deteriorating politics and hypocrisy of Congress. King points to an anti-New York bias that’s still at work and one New York faced before, such as in the fight for superstorm Sandy money.
But 9/11 — and the post-9/11 health crisis — is everyone’s tragedy.
The opposition isn’t as vehement as it was in 2010. Now, it’s a story of “benign neglect,” says King. But that’s even worse. It means the same lawmakers who laud 9/11 heroes and lament each anniversary simply don’t care, even as some push their own pet projects.
New York needs all the help it can get on this one. So, Donald Trump, have we got a fight for you. You want something with which to beat up the establishment? You want an issue that illustrates just how little Washington does right? Get help for the victims of 9/11. If you speak up, perhaps people around the country — and those who represent them — will listen.