Sick leave benefits expanded for 9/11 first responders

The Tribute in Light rises above the lower Manhattan skyline, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, in New York. The two blue pillars of light provide a visual reminder of how the Twin Towers, destroyed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, once stood above the city skyline. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed new legislation that expands unlimited paid sick leave benefits for 9/11 first responders.

First responders to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, who later developed an illness as a result, could now be eligible for unlimited paid sick leave.

“When the towers came down, those big clouds that people breathed in, there may be people who ran from that scene, who may be diagnosed with the 9/11 disease and not even know it yet,” Clifton Park Fire Chief Art Hunsinger said.

Sixteen years after the terror attacks, Cuomo signed new legislation that assures any government employee in New York, who developed a 9/11-related illness, is eligible to apply for unlimited paid sick leave. It covers 100 percent of their regular salary dating back to the time of diagnosis.

Local first responders stand to gain a lot from the decision.

“There are people who are from Saratoga County, from Albany County, and they were deployed within hours of the towers’ collapse,” Hunsinger said. “And they were exposed to all the same things that all the men and women of FDNY were.”

“Down in the city, downstate, these protections apply to individuals who, for example, have moved outside New York City and now work on Long Island, Albany, and so forth,” local attorney Allen Shoikhetbrod said.

If you are a government employee and your health has been compromised due to 9/11 response efforts, there is a qualifying period of time to apply for benefits. Lawyers said their advice is to act fast.

“Apply immediately,” Shoikhetbrod said. “Submit a notice of participation with your retirement system immediately. Then notice of participation that needs to be filed that verifies you participated in the cleanup or recovery has to be done within a year.”

In a speech on Monday, Cuomo said first responders deserve the expanded benefits because they “paid, literally, with their health to help New Yorkers and the state of New York.”

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