HONOLULU – President Barack Obama said Sunday he was honored to sign a bill to provide aid to survivors of the Sept. 11 attacks and first responders who became ill working in the ruins at the World Trade Center.
"We will never forget the selfless courage demonstrated by the firefighters, police officers and first responders who risked their lives to save others," Obama said in a statement. "I believe this is a critical step for those who continue to bear the physical scars of those attacks."
The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was named after a police officer who died of a respiratory disease he contracted during the 9/11 rescue operations. The bill was one of the last measures Congress passed before adjourning in December.
Some Republicans tried to block the measure, saying they were concerned with how to pay for the bill. They dropped their opposition after lawmakers struck a compromise to reduce the costs.
The $4.2 billion measure will be paid for with a fee on some foreign companies that get U.S. government procurement contracts.
"At long last, the President's signature has ended our nine-year struggle to address the 9/11 health crisis. The Zadroga law will save lives and fulfills our moral obligation to care for those who rose to the defense of America in a time of war," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.
"This is a great victory for the heroes of September 11th, the firefighters, police officers and construction workers. Justice is finally being served," added Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.
New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly hailed the passage of the bill. "The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were an attack on America by a foreign enemy and addressing its health impacts is a national duty," Bloomberg said.
There was no signing ceremony for the bill; Obama signed it privately at the rented oceanfront home in Hawaii where he's staying with his family.
White House spokesman Bill Burton said Obama had 10 days to sign the bill after its passage, a window that would have closed by the time the president returned to Washington Tuesday. Because the White House didn't receive the official bill until after Obama departed Washington Dec. 22, Burton said a staff member who was headed to Hawaii after the president carried it here for his signature.