Rep. Andrew Garbarino hugs 9/11 survivor advocate Mariama James during a...

Rep. Andrew Garbarino hugs 9/11 survivor advocate Mariama James during a news conference calling for additional federal funding for people who were sickened by their exposure to toxins after the terror attacks, at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 28, in Washington. Credit: Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

If you’d asked Mariama, Nate, and Jamie what they might have had in common in early 2001, they probably wouldn’t have imagined much.

But after the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, Mariama — a pregnant mother of two — came home to find her Manhattan apartment covered in a thick coat of ash. Nate, a 20-year-old service member, worked to recover and bury those killed at the Pentagon. Jamie, a 19-year-old volunteer with Sayville Ambulance, spent weeks cleaning up at Ground Zero. Now, all three are suffering from 9/11-related health conditions.

We welcomed Mariama, Nate, and Jamie to Washington in February for a news conference announcing our bipartisan legislation to address the impending World Trade Center Health Program funding shortfall. A proud example of what can be achieved when Democrats and Republicans work together to prioritize the needs of those they serve, the program was created by Congress in 2011 to provide medical treatment and monitoring for those suffering from 9/11-related conditions.

These survivors include children living or attending school in lower Manhattan. Paramedics, police officers, volunteers, and family members. Those who ran toward the smoke and flames while others ran away. Firefighters who battled the fires for weeks. And construction workers who combed through the burning, twisted wreckage. All of them breathed in the toxic fumes and experienced physical and mental trauma no one should ever suffer.

Now, many are dealing with conditions like cancer, respiratory diseases, and PTSD. Thousands have died — even more than the number who died in the initial attacks. On Long Island, over 20,000 people are enrolled in the program. And every month, hundreds more sign up.

In 2015, the health program was reauthorized until 2090. Unfortunately, the formula used to calculate how much money would be needed to care for all exposed will not keep pace with rising costs. From 2019 to 2022, for example, health care providers’ costs for everything from labor and pharmaceuticals to supplies and services grew 16% to 25%.

To address this problem, Congress delivered $1 billion for the program in last year’s government funding package. While this funding was critical, it was not enough. A gap still remains, and the formula still needs fixing. Additionally, the program in its current form excludes people like Nate — service members and other Defense Department personnel who responded at the Shanksville crash site and at the Pentagon.

That’s why we wrote the 9/11 Responder and Survivor Health Funding Correction Act: to close the funding and eligibility gaps in the World Trade Center Health Program. Our bill would make changes to the funding formula so the program keeps pace with rising health care costs. And it would finally allow excluded Pentagon and Shanksville responders to enroll.

People like Mariama, Nate, and Jamie deserve our help and care. They have endured unimaginable traumas and should not be left to suffer alone. The Sept. 11 attacks left an indelible mark on our national psyche. For those who responded to or lived near the attacks, the impact was devastating.

By eliminating the funding shortfall and expanding eligibility to the excluded Pentagon and Shanksville first responders, we can honor our commitment to our fellow Americans. And in so doing, we can prove that “never forget” is not just a slogan. It is a promise — to care for these 9/11 responders and survivors for as long as they may be suffering.


This guest essay reflects the views of New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Andrew Garbarino from the 2nd Congressional District of New York.

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