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9/11 Responders Get Permanent Health Care Benefits

As we headed into the holiday season Congress came through with a well-deserved and long-overdue win for the first responders of 9/11—permanent health care benefits. The massive spending and tax bill passed and signed on December 18 included a permanent extension of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The legislation is named after a New York City police officer, who, after spending hundreds of hours at Ground Zero, developed a respiratory disease that later killed him.

The extension had been held up in Congress despite strong bipartisan support and mounting public pressure primarily because of concerns about the total cost. In the end the bill authorized $8.1 billion to fund the program.

As the Project On Government Oversight previously reported, the Zadroga Act, which had initially been authorized for just 5 years of funding, had expired in September. This failure, which was far from the first government misstep on health and safety in the aftermath of 9/11, left the more than 70,000 people enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program to wonder when the last of the funds would be used up and when their care would stop. Some experts projected “significant operational challenges" by February 2016 if funding was not reauthorized.

While it would have been better for everyone if the extension could have been before the initial funding expired and without all the worry and drama, in the end Congress got this one right and we can all feel good about that.