Opening Statement Senator Hillary Clinton
September 24, 2002
Two weeks ago, Americans joined together to honor those who lost their lives on September 11th. While the anniversary has come and gone, the human needs born from this tragedy remain.
There are 30,000 rescue workers and volunteers who need health tracking as many battle respiratory illnesses.
There are tens of thousands of New Yorkers who lost their jobs as a direct result of the attacks and need extensions on their Unemployment Insurance and Disaster Unemployment assistance.
And there are thousands of children, rescue workers, and family members who bear no visible scars from that day, but their wounds are deep and they need long-term mental health treatment.
Two weeks ago, we paused to remember those who were taken from us before their time. But today, we must not forget our commitment to rebuild New York City, and to help those New Yorkers who are searching for a job and struggling with psychological trauma to rebuild their lives.
As the President said, “We will rebuild New York,” and New Yorkers are grateful for his commitment.
I do want to take this time to thank everyone who responded to the needs of New Yorkers during this difficult year. These attacks were unprecedented and we all responded in the best ways that we knew how.
I want to thank Governor Whitman and her staff at the Environmental Protection Agency for their efforts. And I want to thank Director Joe Allbaugh and his staff at the Federal Emergency Management Agency for what they did and continue to do to improve the lives of New Yorkers. This was a true national effort and New Yorkers are so very grateful for your kindness and the generosity of all Americans.
Especially to people like Mr. Jack Reall who traveled all the way from Sunbury, Ohio to help with the rescue and recovery at Ground Zero. And of course Dr. Kerry Kelly and every member from the New City Fire Department, the Police Department, and the city’s emergency response workers -- and the thousands of fire fighters and police officers and volunteers who traveled as from all over the country to do their part and help New York City rebuild and recover from one of the darkest days in our nation’s history.
Today, we are here to do more than look back and remember the horror and heroism that took place on September 11th. We are here to look ahead and find out how we can build on what was done right in response to the attacks. And we are here to lay the groundwork for a long-term strategy so that our nation is prepared in the event of another catastrophic event.
One of the best ways to plan for the future is to look at what needs were addressed in response to the terror attacks on September 11th. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the FEMA staff in New York for their tireless work on behalf of our residents, our businesses, our agencies, our educational institutions, for our City. I want to especially thank Brad Gair—who I see sitting behind you.
Over the past year, Director Allbaugh, your staff has helped make progress in so many critical areas. I’d like to use this letter that I wrote you on July 17th to point out some of the successes – we can go down the list:
· Clean-up and other costs for educational institutions, like NYU, Pace University, CUNY, and the City’s public schools;
Looking back, it is clear we accomplished so much, but in New York, looking around us, it is also clear there is still so much to be done.
We still need $90 million for baseline screenings and long term health monitoring of the workers and volunteers who labored long hours at Ground Zero. They did not stop to think about what was in the dust and debris they inhaled as they worked.
The New England Journal of Medicine confirmed earlier this month that there will be continuing health consequences for the workers and volunteers who responded at the World Trade Center site. Specifically, Dr. David Prezant (Deputy Chief Medical Officer, FDNY) and colleagues presented new data showing that both a “World Trade Center cough” and permanent, asthma-like symptoms are directly correlated with intensity of exposure to the collapse of the towers.
In addition, the data showed that during the 11 months after the attacks, the number of respiratory medical leave incidents increased five-fold and the number of stress-related incidents increased seventeen-fold among FDNY workers.
It is estimated that 500 FDNY workers will have to retire on the basis of their injuries in the aftermath of the WTC attacks.
And we still need to make certain we are appropriately addressing the indoor air quality issue. I remain concerned, as do many others, about both the geographic limitation of the program that has been set up by EPA in conjunction with the City and FEMA, as well as the limitation of the program to residences.
And while EPA continues to work diligently on this issue, questions still remain about the cleanup program, the standards and methods being used for cleaning and testing, and what the contaminants of concern are in addition to asbestos.
We need to improve public outreach and communication in so many areas, and to make certain that the assistance needed is delivered as quickly as possible.
I think we would all agree that in many cases, people had to wait too long to find out about resources available to them – from air quality testing to mortgage and rental assistance grants. It took months to have the programs set up properly, and I believe that many people still don’t know what is available to them in terms of assistance. There must be a formal structure in place to help businesses stay afloat and workers employed while a city suffers from a disaster like the one we experienced.
As we look to the past for lessons learned, and focus on what concerns remain at present, we must also look to the future and discuss possible changes to the law.
Some of the areas I’d like to explore include:
· We need greater flexibility to ensure that Disaster Unemployment Assistance is available for as long as needed for self-employed individuals and employees of small businesses. When, as in the case of Lower Manhattan, 13 weeks is clearly not enough time for the local economy to recover from a disaster, the Administration must have the flexibility to extend the period for benefits without first getting congressional approval. These families have already had to sacrifice so much – it’s not right to make them wait until Congress can find the appropriate vehicle to pass an extension of these benefits.
· FEMA must have authority to immediately implement health-tracking systems. Health tracking for emergency response workers, volunteers and others who may be exposed to harmful substances in the wake of a major disaster or attack.
· We need to be able to provide long-term mental health services. FEMA has done a good job of ensuring New York has the funding it needs to provide crisis counseling, but we know from experiences like Oklahoma that mental health needs do not lessen within one year. Oklahoma was able to receive services for 21 months – we need to make sure that the statute allows flexibility to support longer-term mental health services.
· Private non-profit entities must be able to get help quickly. In New York and communities across the country, private non-profit entities provide extremely important services that aren’t defined as “critical” under the Stafford Act as amended in 2000. We need to ensure that there is administrative flexibility so that FEMA doesn’t have to use its valuable, though limited, resources finding creative solutions for critical non-profits.
· We need the ability to quickly and appropriately respond to environmental hazards -- because they can also be health hazards. Public communication systems and health-based standards and procedures need to be put in place to address contaminants of concern. People need to be able to return to their homes quickly and safely, without the worry that the air they or their children are breathing is not safe.
· We need flexibility to appropriately use FEMA’s Community Disaster Loan program, which provides assistance so a city doesn’t have to scale back services due to budget shortfalls after a disaster. The program is currently capped at $5 million – there may well be good reasons for that limit, but it doesn’t work for cities like New York.
We know from a recent GAO report that for fiscal year 2002, tax revenue losses for New York City will be $1.6 billion and will continue in fiscal year 2003 with an estimated loss of $1.4 billion more. The City estimates that they will pay out $650 million in unreimbursed disaster related expenses. These expenses have left a city struggling to provide regular social services – the City has had to make major cuts in education and other social services.
I am hoping that we can begin this discussion today, and in the weeks and months ahead continue to refine and implement legislative changes that accurately reflect this new era we live in. Lessons learned are useful when they become lessons implemented, and I am confident that working together we can build the ultimate memorial to all that was lost – a safer and stronger America.