Mayor Michael Bloomberg has finally joined the urgent campaign to get Washington to care for the responders who helped New Yorkers after the Sept. 11 attacks. Many responders — and people who studied, lived or worked around the World Trade Center — are seriously ill, and Mr. Bloomberg can play an important role in making the federal government take responsibility for them.
Mr. Bloomberg was once skeptical about what is being called ground zero disease. But he is now campaigning to get Washington to pay $150 million a year for three health centers that already treat police officers, firefighters and others made sick by the attacks. The money is badly needed to improve care in these underfinanced, overworked centers.
There should also be a fund to compensate those who have been made sick, modeled on the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund. There are some private fund-raising efforts under way, including one by The New York Times Company Foundation, but the big money will have to come from the federal government. One source could be the $1 billion that Congress set aside to cover lawsuits against the city and its contractors.
Mr. Bloomberg is prepared to make it available, but only if Congress passes a law to protect the city and its contractors from negligence suits by the victims. It should do so. The victims will get more money, and sooner, from a compensation fund than if they have to pursue individual lawsuits and pay attorneys’ fees.
The entire nation was attacked on Sept. 11, not just New York. Congress and the Bush administration should be prepared to come up with the additional funds, and the legislative fixes, that are needed to compensate the victims.