WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBSNewYork) — The battle to extend health benefits for 9/11 first responders goes on in Congress. And now, advocates hope to beat an end-of-the-session deadline this week.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill and 9/11 first responders are furious that the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act has not been renewed, CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported.
John Feal, a 9/11 first repsonder and leader of the Feal Good Foundation, even used some rather colorful language describing House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate leader Mitch McConell.
“I dont apologize to anybody when it comes to human life,” Feal said. “If it takes using an a-bomb which to me isn’t that big of a word because I’m sure they’ve been called worse. I’m sure they’ve been called worse from their own constituents,” Feal said.
The law that covers some 33,000 thousand people who got sick working at ground zero expired at the end of September, with the program’s Victims Compensation Fund to expire sometime next year.
Despite overwhelming support for a new bill, it has not yet been voted on, despite numerous promises.
“We were told that it was in the transportation bill, it literally was in the transportation bill,” Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney said. “Someone took it out.”
Now, Congresswoman Maloney says they hope it will be passed in the so-called omnibus budget bill, but in what form, and when that will happen is not clear.
“It’s a fluid situation — no one knows,” Maloney said. “We were told we would be here Friday, Saturday, come back on Monday or Tuesday, and work till Thursday of next week,” Maloney said.
So, whats been the slowdown? Negotiations on how to fund the bill.
Maloney says it appears all the obstacles have been removed, that first responders will get a permanent healthcare program. But critics say, they will believe it when they see it.
“Every time we get to the one-yard line, they extend the goal line, and they’re not playing fair,” Feal said. “So why now at the end when we get closer — we’re within days of getting this done — why should we have to play by their rules?”
Feal says he’s not afraid to get arrested for civil disobedience if the bill is not passed.
In early November, Mayor Bill de Blasio joined a coalition of other politicians from around the country in support of extending the bill.
The coalition was formed in response to an alternative of the bill, introduced by Virginia Congressman Bob Goodlatte, which proposed a 5-year extension of the Zadroga Act, but with sharp decreases in compensation for those eligible.
The recent deaths of several 9/11 first responders were also put under the spotlight as debates over the bill continued in the House. On Nov. 25, Retired Battalion Chief James Costello died from cancer that he developed after working in the World Trade Center aftermath.