Ground Zero Benefits Improved Under New Law
Giving in to mounting pressure from Ground Zero workers who became seriously ill or died from illnesses contracted in the Ground Zero clean up, Governor George Pataki on Monday signed legislation expanding or increasing benefits for stricken workers and their survivors.
In signing the measures at a Ground Zero ceremony in Lower Manhattan, Pataki said, "The bottom line is simple: we asked a great deal of our heroes after the horrible attacks, and they gave without asking anything back. Now it is our turn."
However, Mayor Michael Bloomberg disagreed somewhat with the governor. He said he did not disagree with the purpose of the bill, but felt the cost of the legislation should be paid by the state or federal governments, not the city, which faces up to a $10 million-a-year payout.
Fully supportive of the bills was Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D-Queens/Manhattan), who has been imploring the federal government to recognize its obligation to provide healthcare programs for those who became ill at Ground Zero.
Commenting on the signed bills, Maloney said, "The New York congressional delegation for years has been calling for increased assistance to sick 9/11 workers, and I'm glad the governor has joined us. We need to continue to press the federal government to address the 9/11 health crisis, and I hope the governor will help."
The new laws improve on one passed last year which said that those who worked on the 9/11 rescue or the post-attack Ground Zero cleanup and later contracted cancer or certain respiratory illnesses would be presumed to have gotten ill in the course of carrying out their official duties, entitling them to disability pensions.
The governor explained that if, in fact, a worker died from those sicknesses, "Then your family will be entitled to the death benefits as though you died in the Towers, as though you had died in the line of duty."
The new law also allows Ground Zero workers covered by Workers' Compensation to reapply for those benefits even if he or she missed the deadline that expired in 2003.
It also permits workers who retired with regular city pensions now to apply for an accident disability pension if 9/11-related health problems can be shown. This could increase benefits to 75 percent of their old salary, up from 50 percent.
In response to the mayor's complaints about costs incurred by the new bills, Pataki said the state would be paying for about half of them.