Saturday, September 16, 2006

Congress To Ground Zero Victims: Just Go Away

They were heros then, even deserving hugs from the President for putting their lives on the line to rescue their fellow Americans and spending countless hours, days and weeks cleaning up the remains of the two of the world's greatest skyscrapers, but now that thousands of them are coughing their lungs out and need help, a greatful nation no longer seems to care, if the actions of Republicans in the US Congress last week are any indication.
Senate Republicans killed a bid for nearly $2 billion to help sick 9/11 responders yesterday - blocking the measure without letting it come up for a vote.

Senate leaders invoked parliamentary rules, saying Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-N.Y.) amendment to a measure funding port security was not "germane."

People suffering the effects from 9/11's toxic dust were outraged by the move.

"How could they just throw this out?" said Laura Picurro, of Toms River, N.J., whose husband, Joe, became disabled after doing volunteer iron work at Ground Zero.

"Maybe they should talk to these sick and dying workers," she said. "I find it absurd they didn't even consider it."

Clinton's amendment would have provided $5,800 a year for five years for each person sickened from Ground Zero exposure. She vowed to resubmit the measure or propose other legislation to help responders and nearby residents. "Their country should answer their calls for help," Clinton said.

Although Clinton got stiffed on money for the sick, she did obtain passage of a measure to create a national monitoring system to keep tabs on people who suffer from responding to future attacks or disasters. (Clinton's full remarks can be found here)
So far, Congress has authorized only $227 million for monitoring, workers' compensation and treatment, but no Congressional funds have actually been spent on treatment yet. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health hopes to have $75 million flowing by next month.

The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York released the largest study yet of thousands of Ground Zero workers confirms "that the impact of the rescue and recovery effort on their health has been more widespread and persistent than previously thought, and is likely to linger far into the future."

Some of the excuses for voting against the assistance boggle the imagination:
Sen. Susan Collins, chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said she was worried the bill may leave out rescuers who responded to the Pentagon or the United Flight 93 plane crash in Shanskville, Pa., on that fateful day.
Even worse, some federal officials estimate that the number of affected Ground Zero responders may be more than twice the number previously estimated:
Federal World Trade Center health czar Dr. John Howard recently hiked the estimate of Ground Zero responders to 100,000 from 50,000 - suggesting many more people could get sick from WTC dust and toxins.

"Nobody at this point has a firm number," Howard's spokesman Fred Blosser said, noting the revised figure was based in part on new information from the city Health Department.

"As we learn more, the number may go up," Blosser said. "This is, to a large extent, trying to make an educated guess."

The widely accepted estimate of 40,000 recovery workers was based on surveys conducted by the Mount Sinai Medical Center, which is monitoring and treating those responders.
Hug 'em, chew 'em up, spit 'em out and forget about them.