Mayor signs bill that extends health care benefits to non-uniform city workers

Flags and flowers on 9-11
This was the 18th anniversary of the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center that killed thousands. People who worked there during rescue and recovery are still getting sick and dying from exposure to toxins. (Photo By Todd Maisel)

The mayor signed a bill this week that will extend government-funded health care to families of all municipal workers, not just firefighters and police, who died in the line of duty or from 9/11 related diseases.

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed Intro 1785 on Tuesday to cover municipal workers’ immediate family members, such as wives, domestic partners and their children.

“The families of city employees who make the ultimate sacrifice deserve to be taken care of by our city, now and always,” said Mayor de Blasio. “In that same vein, to protect our most vulnerable, we are taking a Vision Zero approach to lead and making lead exposure a thing of the past. Together, these bills will make the city fairer for the families of our heroes and for the youngest New Yorker’s.”

Intro. 1785, sponsored by Council Member I. Daneek Miller and introduced at the request of Mayor de Blasio, extends healthcare benefits to surviving family members of the following employees: 1) civilian employees who die in the line of duty as a result of a 9/11-related illness, regardless of whether death occurred while in active service or in retirement, 2) civilian employees who die from a non-9/11-related injury that is or was the natural and proximate result of an accident sustained while in the performance of duty, and 3) retired uniformed correction officers and uniformed sanitation workers who die while in retirement as a result of a 9/11-related illness. Under current law, survivor health benefits are provided if death occurs while in active service.

The law takes effect immediately, but only covers future medical expenses, not those that have already been incurred. Children of the workers are covered to age 19, or to age 26 while enrolled in college in a full-time undergraduate or graduate program. 

There are 85 eligible families, and the list could grow to about 5,000, de Blasio said. Miller said the higher number could include workers who sustained 9-11 related illnesses.

Many responders included non-uniformed workers who joined in the search for survivors.  Many people who worked at the World Trade Center after the attacks developed illnesses, including asthma and much worse including cancer. Many of these illnesses have been linked to toxins from the crushed debris of the buildings.

Some of these unsung heroes include Sanitation workers, jail guards, parks workers, and many heavy equipment operators from a variety of agencies.

The legislation is expected to cost about $511,000 this year and $1.3 million in the next, according to the mayor’s office.

The bill does not replace the Federal Zadroga Act that was recently extended by Congress for an additional year, allowing those exposed to sign up for compensation to help cover illnesses and future illnesses that have not yet shown up.

Michael Barasch, an attorney with Barasch and McGarry, said many people have yet to file for compensation claims, some of those unaware that they are entitled to this protection. He hailed the city’s actions to protect city workers who were exposed to the deadly WTC toxins.

“The mayor signed a bill for non-uniform municipal workers, entitling them to the same health care benefits as all other uniformed workers because at that time and at that time, everybody was encouraging people to return to work,” Barasch said. “People were told the air was safe, so they opened the municipal building saying it was safe. People were getting sick.”

Barasch said many people have still not joined in the Zadroga compensation protections.

“Congress passed the bill to extend the  victims compensation fund to anyone who had cancer or will get cancer in 70 yrs, the fund will pay money to people of up to $250,000 for cancer or $350,000 to a spouse and we need the word to get out,” Barasch said. “So many people think it is just for first responders, but it also includes down town office workers — there are 300,000 office workers, 50,000 students and teachers, BMCC has 20,000 and there are 25,000 downtown residents exposed to same toxins, same cancers.”

This is attorney Michael Barasch.

Under Zadroga, people have two years to apply, with a deadline now the end of 2020.

“God forbid you get sick, you still need two witnesses to sign affidavits that you were down there, and they may mot be here when you need to get them to sign,” Barasch said. “Once you get cancer, you can’t get life insurance — so many people don’t know about the extension.”

Barasch said a failure to be covered, can “bankrupt people, especially with private health insurance may be paying half the health expenses,” he said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed a bill giving public-sector workers pension and health benefits who got sick from working at the World Trade Center.

Many first responders continue to suffer the effects of exposure at the site, many of whom have since died from cancer attributed to their exposure to toxins during rescue and recovery operations.

Many people continue to get sick and die from their exposure during rescue and recovery operations from the attack on the World Trade Center more than 18 years ago. (Photo By Todd Maisel)