New Legislation Pushes Employers to Notify Staff about Eligibility for September 11 Benefits
Both houses of the State legislature have unanimously passed a proposed new law that will require that businesses and institutions located in Lower Manhattan and northern Brooklyn inform employees who reported to work between September 2001 and July 2002 that they may be eligible for benefits from the World Trade Center Health Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
State Senator Brian Kavanagh, who sponsored the bill in the upper house of the Albany legislature, said, “there are many workers, including first responders, retail employees, cleanup workers, office workers, and others who were in the vicinity of the World Trade Center during and after the horrific September 11 terrorist attacks who may be experiencing World Trade Center-related illnesses and may be eligible for financial and healthcare benefits, but may not realize that they are. Our bill seeks to remedy this by enlisting employers of employees who worked in the area between September 11, 2001 and July 31, 2002 to notify each person of their potential eligibility for these programs.”
The legislation was prompted by statistical data showing that some 400,000 civilians were exposed to September 11 toxins on the day or the attack or in the weeks and months that followed, but only a small percentage with qualifying medical conditions have registered. (This contrasts sharply with the participation rate among first responders, more than 80 percent of whom have registered with the federal health and compensation programs.)
Louis Coletti, the retiring president of the New York Building Trades Employers Association (which represents more than 1,000 contracting firms that employ unionized personnel), said, “the New York State legislature is recognizing the sacrifice made by so many of our frontline construction workforce. Countless contractors with critical expertise and plentiful skilled labor rushed to the front lines to aid in the recovery and reconstruction of Lower Manhattan. They spent months toiling and did not stop until the job was complete.”
James Shillitto, president of the local affiliate of the Utility Workers Union of America, said, “our members were at the attack site to address and restore power, natural gas, and steam systems impacted in Lower Manhattan. These members employed by Con Edison worked tirelessly and laid more than 3,300 miles of temporary electrical cable in the immediate days following September 11, setting up 82 generators to restore power to the financial markets and support law enforcement rescue efforts. The toxic exposure from this disaster was unprecedented.” He continued, “as a person diagnosed with a September 11-related illness and registered with the federal program, I understand the importance of this bill and the difference it can make in a person’s life.”
In addition to tradesmen who toiled at the site of the attacks during recovery and cleanup operations, this bill (which now goes to the desk of Governor Kathy Hochul, for her signature or veto) may have significant implications for Lower Manhattan residents who also worked in the community in late 2001 and the first half of 2022. Because many rental tenants and homeowners chose to live in the community (at a time when the area was not heavily residential) as a result of its proximity to nearby office towers, this cohort of prospective beneficiaries may number in the thousands.