After more than 14 years, the wait for government compensation is over for a number of first responders suffering from 9/11-related illnesses. On Tuesday, officials announced that a group of payments totaling more than $233.4 million were being delivered to more than 1,000 firefighters, police, and emergency personnel. “We have shifted more staff to focus on payments and I am proud we exceeded our first interim target,” said Sheila Birnbaum, the special master of the Victim Compensation Fund, in a statement on the fund’s site.
These payments were made possible thanks to the December reauthorization of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Although parts of the Zadroga Act expired on September 30, renewal from Congress stalled for some months. Despite adamant support on behalf of officials like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Mayor Bill de Blasio, certain members of Congress, including presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, opposed the decision. Nevertheless, the act, which provides necessary health care services and compensation for 9/11 survivors and first responders, received a strong vote from the House of Representatives—316 to 113 in favor of its continuation for another 75 years (although the victim fund itself only received a five-year extension).
Moving forward, the Victim Compensation Fund announced that additional payments would be authorized “in each successive month until all Group A payments have been made.” According to the fund’s timeline, this process is scheduled to be completed by August of this year. At that time, the fund will start to make decisions on a second group of payments (“Group B”), which will likely be rolled out in September or October. (“Group A” refers to payments that were decided prior to December 18, 2015, while “Group B” encompasses claims that were received but not decided prior to that date, and are subject to new jurisdictions per the reauthorization act.)
While this timeline is a welcome advancement in the process of securing victim compensation, it comes at a time when a reported 33,000 survivors and first responders have already been diagnosed with 9/11-related illnesses and only 114 cancer claimants have been awarded funding as of 2014. And this doesn’t even include those who could potentially contract cancers and other diseases further down the road. Fortunately, with the Zadroga Act scheduled to continue for another 75 years, there is far more hope for their improved health and continued survival.