Luján Statement on Senate Passage of Historic RECA Expansion and Extension
Luján Leads Bipartisan Effort to Strengthen RECA in the NDAA
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) issued the following statement after the Senate passed a historic expansion and extension of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) program as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA):
“Nearly eight decades after the Trinity Test in New Mexico, many New Mexicans are still left out of the original RECA program. This is unacceptable given the number of New Mexicans who have gotten sick and died from radiation exposure. The federal government must do right by these communities, and today’s Senate vote is a step in the right direction toward justice.
“I was proud to work across the aisle to build support for this historic RECA expansion. The support of my colleagues, and the many advocates engaged on this issue, helped bring attention to the injustice faced by New Mexicans. Today, the Senate took the most significant vote on RECA since the program was first adopted.
“While this important vote passed, this fight is not over. I will continue working with my colleagues and advocates to ensure that the House follows our lead and does what is right by Downwinders and uranium mine workers.”
This amendment for the first time ever expands RECA eligibility to New Mexico downwinders and post-1971 Uranium miners who have been denied justice despite being exposed to radiation.
Between 1945 and 1992, the United States conducted 206 above-ground nuclear weapons tests, releasing harmful radioactive material into the air and blanketing parts of the United States, including New Mexico. Communities and individuals living near these test sites, known as “downwinders,” continue to suffer health effects related to the testing. Similarly, those who helped mine, mill and transport uranium needed for these weapons continue to bear the consequences of their work in defense of our nation.
Originally passed in 1990, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) provides a one-time benefit payment to individuals who may have developed cancer or other specified diseases after being exposed to radiation from atomic weapons testing or uranium mining, milling or transporting. The RECA program is scheduled to sunset in 2024.
Unfortunately, the original RECA bill failed to recognize that radioactive fallout is not restricted by state lines and left out so many impacted communities. At present, only those who lived near the Nevada Test Site during a period of atomic weapons testing are eligible for compensation for their status as a downwinder. This measure seeks to remedy that to include other state impacted by nuclear testing.
This amendment would update the current RECA program by expanding the geographic downwinder eligibility to include then-residents of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. This legislation would also expand eligibility for certain individuals working in uranium mines, mills or transporting uranium ore after 1971. Our legislation would increase the amount of compensation an individual may receive and extend the RECA program another 19 years following enactment.
Last year, Senator Luján secured a 2-year extension of the RECA program which was critical to avoid the program from expiring. Earlier this month, the Senator announced the reintroduction of his bipartisan, bicameral legislation to strengthen the RECA program. He has introduced RECA legislation in every Congress since his first term in the U.S. House.