Gov. Kathy Hochul is expected to sign a bill into law to notify thousands of people who may be eligible for assistance through the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund or the World Trade Center Health Program.
The bill, known as the 9/11 Notice Act, was delivered Thursday to Hochul's desk, and would require businesses that operated near Ground Zero during 9/11 to notify employees who worked in downtown Manhattan at the time that they could be eligible for the federal benefits and health monitoring.
The proposal would apply to businesses that employed 50 or more people at the time, or about 360,000 people.
Lawmakers say Hochul will sign the legislation Monday, which marks the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Representatives with Hochul's office would not confirm her plans for the legislation, but said she will attend the annual ceremonies at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum on Monday.
"The governor has attended the Ground Zero memorial ceremonies each year since she became governor and intends to do so once again on Monday," Hochul's press secretary Avi Small said in a statement.
About half a million people who worked, lived or attended school in the Ground Zero exposure zone — which extends to Canal Street, the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Dumbo, Brooklyn Heights and others — were exposed to the toxic dust, and have elevated risk of developing nearly 70 cancers and other illnesses tied to the airborne toxins.
But most eligible people are missing out as it's a widely believed misconception the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund and similar benefits are reserved for first responders. Fewer than 10% of eligible civilians are getting compensated for their Ground Zero exposure, compared to about 80% of first responders, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We know a lot of people were exposed to very toxic things at that very difficult time," Senate sponsor Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, said Friday. "And we know that these programs have been in existence for more than two decades, and many people are not aware that they're available. This is an effort to make everybody aware that they should be monitoring their health and they should be taking advantage of the benefits that might be available to them."
The bill passed unanimously this session.
Assembly sponsor Nader Sayegh, a Democrat from Yonkers, says he spoke with the governor about her support for the measure.
Thousands of 9/11 victims have undergone necessary medical treatment without the federal funding or medical assistance. More than 6,000 people have died from related illnesses over the last 22 years, or more than double the number of people who died immediately following the attacks.
A representative can also apply for someone who died from their related illness.
"We want them to know and to take advantage," Sayegh said. "So many families have gone bankrupt because of enormous health care costs. And so many have ignored treatment because they're unable to reach out and understand that there is a benefit and there is treatment."
Fran Greene, of Smithtown, is a licensed clinical social worker who provided trauma counseling to state employees at Ground Zero. She later survived a battle with breast cancer, but didn't apply for aid from the Victim Compensation Fund until after her recovery.
A friend who also worked at Ground Zero who developed lymphoma taught Greene about the fund. She used a toxic exposure attorney to navigate the process and receive compensation.
"Without the kind, compassionate, diligent support of the law firm, I would never have been able to handle the details of the application process," Greene recounted. "If only the medical community and employers were required to share this information, it would not have taken years for me to know about this."
Daniel Hansen, a toxic exposure attorney with Hansen & Rosasco LLP, says he's helped thousands of 9/11 victims secure medical help and benefits in the last 22 years.
"You can't replace the person, but you can you can help replace some of those financial losses, and lighten the burden on a lot of the people who have been left behind."
The Sept. 11th tragedy is personal for Hansen, who lost childhood friends and family members in the attacks.
"It's strange knowing that I'm in my mid 50s, and they are not," he said.
To find out if you are eligible for compensation, contact the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, the World Trade Center Health Program, a toxic exposure attorney or your state and federal representatives.