RECA has expired. What’s next?

RECA has expired. What’s next?

Help for people sickened by radiation from nuclear tests and uranium mining, including here in New Mexico, is coming to an end after 34 years.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Help for people sickened by radiation from nuclear tests and uranium mining, including here in New Mexico, is coming to an end after 34 years.

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act expired Friday after U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson didn’t call a vote on a bill to extend and expand it.

That’s despite a 69-30 U.S. Senate vote in March.

The expiration left New Mexicans, who worked in uranium mines and were downwind of nuclear tests, in wonder. What’s next for them and their families?

“I’m the fourth generation in my family to have cancer since 1945. And unfortunately, now I have a 24-year-old niece who’s diagnosed with thyroid cancer,” said Tina Cordova, co-founder and executive director of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium.

Advocates like Cordova are never giving up. For her and others, it’s a lifelong fight – but this is a massive setback.

“While they play politics, we’re gathering up our resources for someone to have cancer treatment. We’re having bake sales and car washes and selling cattle so we can meet our health care needs,” Cordova said.

Lawmakers are using this energy and support to chart the next steps for RECA.

Starting Tuesday, the House Rules Committee will decide which amendments could be made to the National Defense Authorization Act.

“There’s over a thousand amendments and ours is one of them,” U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez said.

Cordova is pressing local Republican leaders to call on their counterparts in Congress.

“The Republican Party of New Mexico knows and has supported our efforts to expand RECA in the past. They know that radiation exposure is not discerning. It’s affected the young, the old, the black, the white, and the Republican and the Democrat alike,” she said.

Just a simple extension isn’t enough either. With RECA the way it is, it doesn’t cover New Mexico downwinders and their families, like Cordova and her family.

Rep. Leger Fernandez says people already covered aren’t budging either.

“They’re saying no. The Navajo Nation, whose members can benefit from the existing RECA, have passed a resolution calling for the expanded RECA,” she said.

While the RECA program has expired, the office will still process claims submitted before June 10. The office will remain open until they’ve addressed all of the claims.

KOB 4 reached out to the Republican Party of New Mexico for a response to Cordova’s call to them. Chairman Steve Pierce issued the following statement:

“During my time in Congress, I supported the RECA program to provide compensation for the victims of radiation exposure from United States nuclear testing. The main challenge has always been to negotiate a bill that is fair to all parties involved. From the outside, it appears the Senate bill has provisions that House leadership is currently not willing to accept. The issue is bipartisan, so I trust that negotiations are ongoing, which will see that the program continues. Even if the bill expires, provisions can be incorporated to mitigate any disruption to the program.”

We also reached out to U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson’s office for a statement. However, we have not heard back from them yet.