July 10, 2007
The United Church of Christ in partnership with the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, and New York Disaster Interfaith Services continues to encourage paid and volunteer workers to register with New York State. The one-year extension granted to file with New York workers' comp board provides further opportunity to do outreach in communities across the United States.
A one-year extension was announced Monday for people who worked or volunteered in the Ground Zero area after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to register with the New York State Workers' Compensation Board.
New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer signed the extension, pushing the deadline to August 14, 2008, according to Sheryl Wood, general counsel for the workers' comp board. The initial deadline was August 14, just five weeks away.
Anyone who worked or volunteered in the area in the days and months after September 11 is eligible to register.
Registration is not the same as filing a claim with the board. Rather, it allows applicants to be eligible to file a claim should they encounter health issues related to their work at Ground Zero that keeps them from their current employment.
Announcement of the extension received a positive response.
"It's great news," said Maggie Jarry, director of recovery and advocacy for New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS). "I think it's something that needed to happen. I hope it's partnered with a campaign to really do effective outreach to the individuals who would be most affected by the cleanup."
Jarry said she and other recovery organizations estimate that 40,000 to 60,000 people participated in the cleanup around Ground Zero - from the firefighters who worked in "the pit" to chaplains who counseled nearby and volunteers who served meals a street away. Many are now reporting health issues that they say are related to their work in the area.
Wood said that 19,982 people have registered with the state board.
Jarry and others said they hoped for more outreach to contact others who worked at the site.
"We look forward to working with (the governor) in getting the word out to people both about the benefits of why people need to sign up and on helping notify as many people as possible," said Joel Shufro, executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH).
Florence Coppola of the National Disaster Ministries office of the United Church of Christ urged people to register even if they have not suffered any ill health effects from the work. She said registration would allow them to file a claim in the future if health problems arise.
"It's not difficult to register. This is an easy process," said Coppola, whose denomination has worked closely with NYDIS and NYCOSH on the health effects of September 11.
Coppola said getting people to register was difficult.
"People will say, 'Oh, I'm fine.' Well, you may be OK today, but three, four or five years from now, who knows? I'm very concerned about that," she said.
"It's to help you," she said of the registration process. "It's for you even if you may never need it, and that's the best of all possible scenarios. But in the worst, what's your recourse?"
Coppola said she has sent repeated announcements to her UCC conferences nationwide about registration. She said people need to know that their current location does not matter for registration.
"It doesn't matter where you live. If you lived in Wisconsin and spent three weeks in the church (near Ground Zero) serving meals or whatever, you need to understand your exposure," she said. "It's not just about those who were there or across the street. Think about the people who came into the church and carried the dust with them. You didn't have to be hands-on in the pit or even handing out bottles of water - your exposure was there."
Jarry encouraged people to register immediately and not put it off due to the extension.
"This is an opportunity that should not be missed," she said.
Jarry said one reason registration numbers were low could be because people came from far away and were unaware that they could sign up. Another reason was because caregivers who were eligible may be among a group that does not often ask for help, she said.
"Many caregivers - firefighters, chaplains, police and others - many have trouble asking for help or recognizing they need help," Jarry said.
"In certain industries (there's a stigma that) it's not appropriate to ask for help," she added. "Maybe somebody who asks for help may be labeled as someone who's trying to take advantage of the system. This is not taking advantage of the system. They need to get the help they deserve and are eligible for, even if they may not yet need it."
She said others may be in denial about the health risks or they do not want to bring up memories of the traumatic scenes they witnessed.
"The site was a traumatic place and this was a traumatic event for everyone," Jarry said. "This tends to be something people don't want to think about or dwell on, but it's very important that they keep the door open for themselves."