Congressional Bill Seeks to Expand Benefits for Workers, Residents Exposed to Radiation

The legislation would increase the number of “downwind” states and the maximum amount individuals can receive to $150,000.

House members are pushing for amendments to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to expand benefits for people who were exposed to radiation while working in uranium mines or living downwind from nuclear weapon test sites.

The original legislation, which established a fund for people who became seriously ill due to high radiation exposure, was passed in 1990. The current RECA authorization is set to expire in two years, igniting efforts to pass amendments to the law.

Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico), the assistant House speaker, and 35 co-sponsors introduced legislation on July 16 that would increase the maximum amount individuals can receive to $150,000. Currently, recipients are typically awarded between $50,000 and $100,000.

In addition, the legislation would expand the definition of affected “downwind” states to include Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Guam. Individuals in these states would be able to apply for benefits related to being exposed to radioactive contamination from atmospheric or nuclear weapons testing.

“Radiation exposure has taken the lives of too many and continues to hurt our communities,” Luján, who introduced the bill on the 74th anniversary of the Trinity Test in New Mexico, said in a statement. “This legislation will extend compensation for those individuals who played a role in our national security and help make those individuals whole.”

Luján’s proposal includes a congressional apology to individuals who were exposed to radiation and extends the fund until 2045. The time period for claims related to uranium mining would also be extended to Dec. 31, 1990, allowing more miners to become eligible for compensation for medical costs.

The federal government has paid out $2.3 billion to around 50,000 people since the law came into effect in late 1990, according to KUER, Utah’s public radio station. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate, but amendments to RECA have failed in the past few years.

“Anyone who has sacrificed their health for the defense of our country deserves to be compensated, but there are communities in New Mexico impacted by uranium mining and atomic weapons tests who are still hurting and have never been compensated,” Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) said in a statement.

She added that the legislation would “provide justice for the downwinders and miners who have been overlooked but still suffer from those impacts.”

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