Bill seeks to expand radiation compensation eligibility, requirements
FARMINGTON — A federal proposal seeks to revise the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to extend compensation to those who worked in uranium mines or mills beyond 1971 and increase the number of states where test sites for nuclear weapons exposed residents to radiation.
U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., introduced H.R. 3783 on July 16 in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The bill proposes to extend claims to individuals who were employed at uranium mines or mills from 1972 to Dec. 31, 1990.
It would amend RECA to include Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah and the territory of Guam on the "downwind" list – areas where communities were exposed to emissions from nuclear sites.
It also proposes to amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Trust Fund, which provides payments for claims, to continue until 2045. The fund is set to expire in July 2022.
It also seeks a Congressional apology to individuals who were exposed to radiation in New Mexico, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Texas, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nevada, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The revision seeks to expand the proof of residency requirements to agree with tribal laws and tradition, including the acceptance of home site leases and records of recognized tribal associations or organizations.
"The United States of America owes these families and communities an apology. We owe them the compensation that they need and deserve," Luján said in a July 18 telephone interview.
For members of the Navajo Nation, where uranium mining was prevalent during the Cold War era, the amendments are receiving support from tribal leaders.
"It is time for Congress to act and pass this bill. Our people have suffered and waited too long," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a press release from his office.
The Navajo Nation Washington Office reported that a delegation from the tribe, consisting of former uranium mine workers, Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty and Navajo Department of Health Executive Director Jill Jim, advocated for H.R. 3783 on Capitol Hill this week.
Luján said such advocacy conveys the message that the amendments need approval by Congress.
As of July 19, the bill has gained 38 cosponsors, including fellow New Mexico Democratic Reps. Deb Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small.
Although there have been previous attempts to amend RECA, Luján said he is optimistic this version will receive a hearing in front of the House Judiciary Committee, which is the first committee assignment.
"We have secured a high level of interest from the committee staff as well as the chairman. That's the first step to getting a piece of legislation to move," he said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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