On June 23, 2023, The New York State Assembly and Senate provided hope to victims of 9/11 that they have not been forgotten by unanimously passing the 9/11 Notice Act.
This important bill still requires signing off by Governor Kathy Hochul but this formality will be a step forward for those who risked their lives in helping New York recover in the months following 9/11 and never realized that they could claim free health care and compensation for damages.
Here we look at what the Act means and how it might affect you if you or a loved one were in the Lower Manhattan and northern Brooklyn vicinity in the months following the attacks.
What does the 9/11 Notice Act require?
The 9/11 “exposure zones” of Lower Manhattan and northern Brooklyn remained health hazards for hundreds of thousands of people for eight months or more after the attacks.
The 9/11 Notice Act recognizes this and requires that the employers of workers in these zones between September 2001 and the end of May 2002 make their current or ex-employees aware of their rights to register to receive benefits from the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) and the World Trade Center Health Program.
These funds provide monitoring and treatment for eligible individuals with WTC-related illnesses: both lifetime healthcare and substantial compensation for 9/11-related medical issues.
The Act dictates that New York State’s Department of Economic Development must:
“develop rules and regulations necessary to promote awareness and notification to any past or present businesses and their employees which operated in the New York disaster area during the eligible time period of their potential eligibility under the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and the World Trade Center Health Program. This subdivision shall apply to both current and former employees.”
Recognition for ordinary workers in the exposure zones
In the aftermath of the attacks, much of the attention on medical conditions understandably focused on first responders, many of whom were severely impacted health-wise by the toxic exposure.
Over 80 percent of these national heroes have enrolled in the 9/11 victim benefit programs and received the healthcare and compensation they richly deserved.
However, ordinary workers in the area were asked to return to their normal lives in the days and weeks after the attacks, breathing the same air as firemen, policemen and other first responders.
Many workers provided critical services like restoring power and communications. Other people returned to school or went about their normal daily business, helping New York recover and showing the world that the city had an unbreakable spirit. They were informed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the air was safe to breathe, and it was safe to return to their homes, schools, and workplaces.
The proposed 9/11 Notice Act recognizes that these people also deserve assistance with medical conditions that have resulted from exposure to toxic air. Many have perished or suffered from the same debilitating diseases as the first responders.
Assemblyman Nader Sayegh (D-Dist. 90 Yonkers) became aware that only a small percentage of the 360,000 civilians with qualifying medical conditions exposed to 9/11 toxins had registered by 2021 (the twentieth anniversary of the attacks) This prompted the drawing up of the Act.
Less than eight percent of eligible workers have claimed their right to free healthcare and compensation, perhaps due to a common misconception that benefits were exclusively for first responders. Many people have, therefore, been deprived of much-needed care and financial assistance for their conditions, despite some facing crippling medical bills.
The Act is designed to help redress these “awareness” issues by requiring businesses and institutions to notify employees who returned after the attack of their eligibility for benefits.
When will the 9/11 Notice Act take effect?
The 9/11 Notice Act will take effect 277 days after being passed into law.
This “window” will provide the necessary time for the authorities to work with the Victim Compensation Fund and the World Trade Center Health Program on eligibility requirements and the appropriate messaging for employers to pass on to current and past employees.
Who qualifies for the WTC Health Program and VCF benefits?
Besides first responders, many residents and workers in Lower Manhattan and northern Brooklyn were affected by toxic dust in the air for months after the attacks.
People returned to downtown offices and other places of work during this time: office employees, construction workers, students, teachers, retail workers and delivery people were affected by the same illnesses and cancers that blighted the first responders, but many do not know of their entitlement to compensation and free health care.
Almost 5,900 people have died since 9/11 from related health matters — more than the number who died on the day.
Under the terms of the bill, past or current employers must inform these workers of their right to claim benefits for the following types of health conditions:
- Cancers (skin, breast, prostate, lymphoma, thyroid, lung, colorectal, kidney and more)
- Many respiratory diseases
- Digestive issues
- Psychological injuries
- Other 9-11-related illnesses
Medical monitoring, prescriptions and lifelong treatment are available for eligible workers — at many of the best medical facilities in New York. The VCF also provides a fund with over $10 billion in compensation available for WTC-impacted victims.
How long do you have to file a claim with the VCF or WTC Health Program?
You can still file a claim with the VCF or WTC Health Program even if you have already been treated for related illnesses and recovered.
If someone in your family died from 9/11-related cancer and would otherwise have been eligible for compensation and healthcare, a claim can also be made retrospectively for wrongful death compensation of at least $250,000.
We expect that the 9/11 Notice Act will encourage many more eligible victims of 9/11-related illnesses and deaths to step forward and finally claim the assistance they deserve.
To discuss your situation and learn more about how we may be able to help you, please call Weisfuse & Weisfuse, LLP at 332-239-2238 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.