Looming government shutdown impacts passing of RECA amendment

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A government shutdown is just 10 days away if the U.S. House of Representatives can’t pass the National Defense Appropriations Act.

For some New Mexicans, it’s about more than just keeping the government running. It’s about compensation for downwinders and uranium miners for the first time ever.

“We protected national security so you could all have freedom.”

Phil Harrison is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. He was once a uranium miner but is now urging the U.S. House to approve the expansion of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

The U.S. Senate already passed the expansion which would, for the first time, compensate New Mexico downwinders – such as the Trinity Downwinders – and people like Harrison who worked in uranium mines from 1972-1990.

On the Navajo Nation, over 500 mines used to employ 3,000-5,000 people.

Now, more than 400 miners have died from related diseases. Their family members are dying too.

“Our moms are diagnosed with pulmonary diseases and kidney failure. Almost every community has a dialysis center where people go. We don’t have that medical expertise. We don’t have facilities,” Harrison said.

The story is also similar on the Laguna Pueblo. The pueblo is home to the Jackpile-Paguate Uranium Mine site, which was once the largest open pit mine in the U.S., Arlene Juanico says.

“[Now] We have to travel 100 miles north, 100 miles west, about 200 miles south and all the way down to Phoenix, Arizona, just so our miners can get help,” Juanico said.

To Juanico and Harrison, the RECA amendment is a matter of life or death. That’s not going unnoticed in the U.S. House, either.

“If we could get out to the miners who mined after 1975 to do the health screenings. To ask, ‘Do you have any of these cancers that can be caused from this mining?’ we could save lives,” said U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez.

There are still some differences to work out with the overall spending bill. However, there is hope the amendment will get to the president’s desk.

“I think there is a universal understanding that this the right thing to do. The fact that the Senate has it in the NDAA really is, is huge,” Rep. Leger Fernandez said.