A House subcommittee has finally begun moving vital legislation to provide long-term health care and compensation for thousands of emergency responders, volunteers and community residents left seriously sickened after the World Trade Center terrorist attack. The 25-to-8 vote cut across regional lines — an encouraging recognition that the 9/11 attack was an assault on the nation and that its victims still need and deserve the nation’s help.
The measure is separate from the $657 million settlement proposed by New York City and lawyers for about 10,000 rescue and cleanup workers claiming damages. That proposal was rejected by the court last week as too little and too confusing. It left the issue to be renegotiated, underlining the need for federal help for the much larger numbers adversely affected by Sept. 11.
As many as 60,000 people suffering from lung cancer and other diseases traced to the clouds of toxic elements that blanketed the neighborhoods around ground zero now receive medical care and monitoring under limited and year-to-year programs. No one is sure how many more will fall ill in years to come. The House bill would set aside $5.1 billion for the initial decade. It also would wisely provide future economic compensation as additional Sept. 11 victims find themselves unable to work because of their illnesses.
The health care legislation is needed more than ever in the city’s painfully slow recovery from the attacks. Important votes remain, but Congress must persevere. More than eight years later, for many victims, the nightmare of Sept. 11 is just as real and just as painful today.