NEW YORK (FinalCall.com)–Simultaneous protests Oct. 30 at Gov. George Pataki’s mansion in Albany and at his Manhattan office called for a massive expansion of the New York state- sponsored Family Health Plus Program and for a medical program to study and treat victims of September 11, 2001, who were affected by the toxic air that occurred in the wake of the terrorist attack.
“The working-poor communities in New York City, already struggling before September 11, are now confronted with devastating health and economic problems that have been willfully ignored by the government,” a protest spokesman said.
Many organizations sponsored the rallies, including the Asian American Legal Defense Fund, Chinese Staff and Workers Association, Lower Manhattan Residents Relief Coalition, National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, Urban Justice center and Workers Awaaz.
Activists charge that medical experts have found an epidemic of respiratory, dermatological, digestive and other disorders such as post-traumatic stress in lower Manhattan communities. Mainly Chinese, Latinos and Blacks inhabit these communities.
“Since the terrorist attack, most of the attention and federal aid has been focused on the clean-up and rebuilding of Ground Zero, on helping major corporations dislocated by the devastation and on the plight of citizens in Battery Park City, the Financial District and Tribeca, the neighborhoods closest to the World Trade Center site,” Margaret Fung of the Asian American Legal Defense Fund told reporters.
She said that 10,000 low-paid garment workers who labored in Chinatown and lower East Side factories lost their jobs, and with the jobs went the medical coverage.
“We are tired of being ignored,” said Ying Ying Chen, a Chinatown resident who lost her job as a garment worker after September 11, 2001. She said that she and her eight-year-old daughter contracted a cough. “My cough stopped after three months, but my daughter’s cough persists. No doctor has found a way to help my daughter, and I can’t afford all the exams and drugs for her,” she said.
An elderly woman who lives in Rutgers Housing, a city Housing Authority project filled with mostly elderly, spoke to The Final Call, but asked that her name not be used.
“Everyone in my family is sick. We all have coughs and headaches that won’t go away,” she said, adding that her 10-year-old grandson is still traumatized because he watched the planes hit the buildings, and by the fires that followed; yet he has received no counseling. “No one is paying attention to us,” she said.
“All these millions going to fix the buildings and help the big companies. What about the people who can’t help themselves?” she asked.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spokesman James McIntyre said his agency has met with protest organizers at least five times.
“FEMA does not discriminate between groups, the rich and the poor,” Mr. McIntyre said. “We are legally required to help U.S. citizens and documented aliens.” He conceded that there are problems in Chinatown and the lower East Side that have blocked possible assistance.
Many people in Chinatown are in the country illegally, and a good number were paid by factory owners off the books in cash, he said. The factory owners are not eager to admit that they were illegally employing anyone, much less document their employment.
Some tenants even paid their landlords in cash “without rental agreements or leases,” Mr. McIntyre said. “All of this creates problems for us, and we are constantly looking for ways to get around the federal requirements.”