New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed legislation reauthorizing the September 11th Workers Protection Task Force through 2025, amid calls for stronger efforts to protect World Trade Center first responders during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.
First assembled in 2005, the task force’s original mandate was to study and track the health problems suffered by 9/11 first responders and to identify gaps in pension and disability programs available to these heroes. The new law, signed by Cuomo on the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, revives the task force, which has been mostly inactive in recent years. It also revitalizes it by refreshing its staff, expanding its areas of study and creating a biannual meeting requirement designed to enhance the force’s accountability and reporting of results.
The new law expands the task force’s mandate to include analysis of:
- Average processing times for disability claims
- Approval rates for claims
- Claim appeals processes
- Lack of disability coverage for public employees who assisted in World Trade Center-related work but were not members of a retirement system at the time
- The process of identifying people who assisted in the response
Since 9/11, at least 10,000 first responders and people who lived, worked, or attended school in the 9/11 Exposure Zone have been diagnosed with cancer. More than 2,000 have died of their 9/11-related illness or cancer. But the task force reauthorization comes at a time when first responders are dying in significant numbers from COVID-19, which preys on those with underlying health conditions like respiratory problems and compromised immune systems, both major issues afflicting the 9/11 community.
The pandemic highlights the need for more access to health care for first responders. “This population faces profound additional risks from the coronavirus pandemic … and we must do everything in our power to ensure our 9/11 responders have the benefits and health care they need at this time,” according to New York Senator Andrew Gounardes who, along with Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, co-authored the task force revival bill.
At Barasch & McGarry, we are pleased to see the expansion and revitalization of the Sept. 11 Workers Protection Task Force and look forward to seeing the benefits it provides to the community. If you are a 9/11 survivor or first responder and have questions about benefits programs that you may qualify for, please call our New York attorneys at 888-351-9421 or contact us online. Initial consultations are free.