Biden signs two-year extension of Radiation Exposure Compensation Act
FARMINGTON — President Joe Biden signed into law the two-year extension of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, a federal program that compensates eligible individuals who were exposed to radiation from nuclear weapons testing or uranium mining or processing.
The legislation was among nine bills that Biden signed on June 7 at the White House.
The extension received bipartisan support in Congress. Without the support, the program would have sunset in July.
U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., and U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-N.M., applauded the signing of the bill.
"I was honored to join President Biden at the White House to sign a two-year extension of the RECA program," Luján said. "Since being sworn in as senator, it has been a top priority to ensure that this critical program does not expire. With the president's signature, we avoided that injustice. But this fight is not over."
He added that further action needs to be taken on RECA to expand eligibility to all downwinders affected by nuclear testing and to those who worked in uranium operations after 1971.
Last year, Luján and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen RECA to include those groups.
Leger Fernández introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives.
"New Mexico is sadly no stranger to the health perils associated with uranium mining and nuclear testing," she said. "Nearly 77 years after the Trinity Test, our communities still fall ill from radiation exposure. With the enactment of the two-year extension, we must renew our commitment to pass my comprehensive legislation to expand eligibility under RECA to cover all impacted New Mexicans."
Prior to Biden's signing, advocacy groups and individuals harmed by nuclear testing called on federal officials to expand RECA.
"While it's a welcome first step, it falls far short of the expansion bills before Congress that would provide the justice we have been seeking for decades. We don't have two years to get those passed. Too many of us are literally dying waiting," said Mary Dickson, a Utah downwinder and a thyroid cancer survivor.
Uranium was extracted on the Navajo Nation to help further the country's nuclear weapons development, causing health problems for many tribal members.
The action taken by Biden was commended by tribal President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer.
"This measure was passed with bipartisan support for former uranium miners, downwinders and many others who have to live with the devastating health effects to this day," Nez said. "Now that the extension is signed, we can continue to work for the reauthorization and expansion of RECA through 2040."
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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