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Leger Fernández Introduces Bipartisan RECA Expansion Bill

September 22, 2021

Extends benefits under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) for those exposed to fallout


WASHINGTON Today, Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández (NM-03) introduced bipartisan legislation designed to extend and expand eligibility under the RECA program to those who have suffered from cancers and other diseases related to fallout from above-ground nuclear weapons testing during the Cold War period of the 1950s and 1960s.

The legislation expands the coverage area to allow more potential victims, known as “downwinders,” to file for compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.  The program currently limits compensation to individuals who lived in parts of Nevada, Utah and Arizona at the time of the tests, despite scientific studies indicating the radioactive fallout and radiation reached a number of states in the Mountain West.  

The Senate companion bill was introduced by U.S. Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico).

Co-sponsors of the House legislation include: Representatives Burgess Owens (R-UT), Jim McGovern, (D-MA), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Steven Horsford (D-NV), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), Dina Titus (D-NV), Greg Stanton (D-AZ), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Susan Wild (D-PA), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Yvette Herrell (R-NM), Michael San Nicolas (D-Guam) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA).

“New Mexicans have endured the harmful effects of nuclear testing and uranium mining for decades,” said Representative Leger Fernández.  “These aren’t abstract issues for New Mexicans.  Our communities, especially communities of color, suffered when we tested nuclear weapons and mined uranium for those bombs on our lands. Our government must right this wrong.  We must compensate those who are battling cancer, leukemia and other diseases caused by radiation exposure. This bill does just that.  We cannot continue to ignore these injustices. This bill will ensure that those harmed continue to receive compensation and expand the current law to cover communities that have been left behind to deal with the repercussions on their own. It’s time that they receive fair compensation.”

“Uranium mining and atomic testing have left a toxic legacy across the Southwest. Now, generations later, families in my district continue to deal with the illnesses and disease caused by contamination related to these decades-old activities. I support legislation that extends the Radiation Exposure Compensation Trust Fund and ensures that Arizona families impacted by the testing, mining, and cleanup of radioactive material receive the compensation they deserve,” said Congressman Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01). 

"Radiation exposure caused by the U.S. atomic weapon development program forever destroyed lives and livelihoods in Utah and several western states. It's been over twenty years since any meaningful reform to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act - now is the time to renew our support and right these wrongs," said Congressman Burgess Owens (UT-04). 

In addition to Senators Luján and Crapo, Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.).

“For more than a decade, I have introduced legislation to compensate downwinders, and, sadly, we are losing many to old age and cancer,” said Senator Crapo.  “Congress must pass this critical bill while there is still time to assist those still with us.”

“Former uranium miners who are sick and dying and downwind communities whose air and water was poisoned deserve to be treated fairly by their government.  While there can never be a price placed on one’s health or the life of a loved one, Congress has an opportunity to do right by all of those who sacrificed in service of our national security by strengthening RECA,” said Senator Luján.  “For over a decade, I’ve been fighting alongside impacted communities to extend and expand RECA.  This is about justice and doing what’s right, and there’s no time to waste.”

“I am very thankful to Sen. Luján (D-NM), Sen. Crapo (R-ID), and Representative Leger Fernández (D-NM) for championing the bill and supporting the Navajo Nation’s efforts to extend and expand benefits. This bill presents an opportunity for Congress to work with the Navajo Nation, the Navajo Uranium Radiation Victims Committee, and other impacted groups to appropriately extend RECA's coverage. Now is the time to ensure that this program reaches its full potential in remediating effects of radiation exposure on the Navajo people. The extension of the Radiation and Exposure Compensation Program beyond 2022 and the inclusion of post-1971 uranium workers are two changes that we strongly support. The Navajo Nation stands ready to work together with Congress on the RECA Amendments of 2021 to address our concerns,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

“I’ve been working with Downwinders and Uranium workers from throughout New Mexico for over 16 years now to see us added to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.  We are the American Citizens that were harmed during the development and testing of nuclear devices.  We can no longer be ignored.  For anyone to remain complacent knowing this history renders them complicit in the horrible injustice of it all.  It’s time the people of New Mexico and other places like Guam and Idaho receive the restorative justice they’ve been waiting on for decades.  No matter what the cost,” said Tina Cordova, Co-Founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium.  “We thank Senator Luján for his tireless work and dedication to our issue. He is our hero. We will never forget all that he has done.”

In addition to expanding the coverage area, the RECA legislation would provide coverage under additional forms of cancer, increase the compensation from $50,000 to $150,000 for those affected and improve benefits for uranium workers and Tribal residents exposed to fallout.  Updates made to this version of the bill include an expanded list of radiation-related cancers deemed eligible for compensation, added cost-savings for those attempting to file a claim and improved date ranges for downwinder eligibility.