Navajo Nation leaders laud passage of RECA extension by Congress
FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation leaders hailed the passage of a two-year extension of the federal program that compensates eligible individuals who were exposed to radiation from atomic weapons testing or uranium mining or processing.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed Senate bill 4119 on May 11 to extend the deadline for claims filed under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. The House's approval came after the bill passed the U.S. Senate on April 28.
The bill now heads to President Joe Biden's desk.
Without the reauthorization, the program is scheduled to end in July.
The Navajo Nation Washington Office reported last week there are more than 481 claims that are pending under the program.
The bill was introduced on April 28 by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. Among those who cosponsored the legislation were Sens. Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich, both Democrats from New Mexico.
"This two-year extension of RECA is a victory for radiation exposure victims in New Mexico and it gives Congress the necessary time to act on a long-term extension and expansion of benefits and eligibility," Luján said after House members passed the bill with bipartisan support.
Navajo Nation to federal agency: Remove uranium contamination from former mill site
"The continued bipartisan backing for this critical issue shows Congress' commitment to addressing the racial and environmental injustice exposed by the legacy of nuclear weapons testing in the American West," he said.
The senator vowed to further support to strengthen RECA to expand eligibility to downwinders affected by testing sites outside of Nevada and to those who worked in uranium operations after 1971.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and members of the Navajo Nation Council lauded the action by Congress and continue to advocate for amending the program.
"We are pleased to see bipartisan support for former uranium miners, downwinders and many others who have to live with the devastating health effects to this day," Nez said in a statement. "We look forward to President Biden signing the extension into law, so that we can continue to work for the reauthorization and expansion of RECA through 2040."
'Don't overlook us':Slow Amber Alert rollout reflects missing, murdered Indigenous crisis
Speaker Seth Damon commended the work of Luján, Lee and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-N.M., to further secure compensation for affected individuals and families.
"The Navajo Nation urges President Joe Biden to immediately sign this into law on behalf of the countless families dealing with the uranium legacy," Damon said in a statement.
Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty represents seven chapters in the Northern Agency, where uranium mining activities occurred. In her remarks, she expressed appreciation for the advocacy regarding RECA by the Post-71 Uranium Workers Committee and their family members.
"Many women and children witnessed the sickness uranium exposure brought into their households," Crotty said. "So many of our relatives dug up, breathed the dust, and were poisoned by the radiation."
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at email@example.com.
Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e