We all remember where we were that day. I remember every detail.
We all knew someone who was killed — a neighbor, a friend, a sibling, a parent.
On Sept. 11, 2001, New York, the nation and the world experienced one of the darkest days in history. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives, including hundreds of first responders. Now those who survived need our help, and I am fighting to ensure they get it.
With toxic ash filling the Manhattan air and countless victims buried under the rubble, Long Islanders answered the call, setting out en masse to help with rescue and cleanup efforts — acts of heroism that many are paying dearly for today. Every year, more survivors and first responders fall ill with cancers and other 9/11-related illnesses. Nearly 22 years later, Americans are still getting sick. More first responders have died since Sept. 11 than on the actual day.
The men and women who ran into crumbling buildings to save others, and the survivors who lived through one of the worst experiences imaginable, are suffering from illnesses and injuries that resulted from an act of terrorism. We owe it to them to make sure they receive the medical attention — screenings and treatment — they need to fight back and have the best chance of surviving.
That access to health care is now in danger due to the impending funding shortfall in the World Trade Center Health Program. That’s why I have made it my mission to close the shortfall and make sure that our heroes and survivors never have to worry about losing health care coverage again.
Congress established the health program in 2011 to provide medical treatment and monitoring for 9/11 responders and survivors suffering from the effects of the toxins at ground zero. The program covers the lifespans of all who were exposed, including responders and survivors of the attack on the Pentagon as well the crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the children who were in schools in downtown Manhattan on 9/11 and during the cleanup. Today it provides services for over 120,000 people in all 50 states.
No one could have foreseen just how many people would fall ill, how sick they would get, or how aggressive the cancers would be. Given the rising cost of health care, the funds originally authorized for the program didn’t go as far as intended. This issue is deeply personal to me, as it is for so many New Yorkers. I have friends fighting for their lives right now. I have spoken to countless firefighters and other first responders going through the same thing. If more money is not appropriated, those who need it most will face cuts in services, and those who may begin experiencing 9/11-related illnesses in the future will not be able to receive the care they deserve.
I introduced the 9/11 Responder and Survivor Health Funding Correction Act of 2023 earlier this year, with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, which, if passed, would eliminate the funding shortfall of the World Trade Center Health Program and ensure that it remains financially stable for years to come. While this legislation has yet to be brought up for a vote in the House or Senate, I am doing everything possible to gain funding for the program in the meantime and push off any potential program cuts.
I recently fought to have funding for the program included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. Whether the provision will pass as part of the final package remains to be seen. Although this would only be a partial fix, it would provide another cushion for the program before cuts are necessary, and allow us time to secure the full funding needed. I, along with my fellow New Yorkers in Congress, will fight like hell to get this funding through the final stages of the legislative process and ultimately signed into law.
We all collectively promised to never forget, but it seems that too many have turned a blind eye to the ongoing suffering of our 9/11 heroes, survivors and their families. But I haven’t forgotten, and I know that no Long Islander has forgotten. Together we will deliver on America’s promise by securing the funding needed to safeguard the World Trade Center Health Program in whatever way we can.
Congressman Andrew R. Garbarino represents the 2nd District, and sits on the House Committees on Homeland Security, Financial Services and Ethics.