The ‘clock is ticking’ on RECA; downwinders call on public to pressure House speaker

The program for compensating people exposed to radiation expires June 7


An effort to extend and expand compensation to people exposed to radiation from federal nuclear testing and uranium mining was not included in the $1.2 trillion funding package signed by President Joe Biden this week. 

This happened despite continued bipartisan support and a late push by the White House to extend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) before it expires June 7, as the clock runs down on an extension by Congress from 2022.

RECA is a unique fund, paying out lump-sums to qualified people diagnosed with certain cancers and other diseases if they lived and worked in designated places at specific times. 

The fund started in 1990 and remains limited. It has paid out $2.6 billion to more than 40,000 claims from uranium miners, millers, transporters, people on-site during nuclear weapons tests and people that lived in a handful of counties in Utah, Nevada and Arizona where fallout fell.

Earlier this March, the Senate passed a measure expanding RECA for more workers, extending it for six more years and granting eligibility to people who have never received recognition – including people and the descendants exposed to the first atomic blast at the Trinity Site.

But that measure was not in the latest federal government spending, which would have accelerated the bill’s passage.

Many of the people in the radius of U.S. nuclear testing, waste disposal and uranium and mining have been excluded from compensation. They fear their chances to seek justice will die if the fund lapses.

It’s a familiar feeling, said Tina Cordova, the founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, a longtime representative for the people and descendants exposed from the Trinity Test Site. 

“We’re absolutely horrified they would leave us waiting like this, again, wondering about the June deadline,” Cordova said. “The clock is ticking.”

She said downwinder groups are encouraging the public to express their support to the Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana), and ask to bring RECA for a vote. 

“We’re just gonna keep the pressure on, and hope springs eternal, we have to remain hopeful,” Cordova said. “We’re so close.”

Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-New Mexico), who has carried previous RECA bills in the House, called this recent exclusion from the spending package a “moral failure.” 

“This obstruction of compensation for communities devastated by radiation poisoning is unconscionable,’ Leger Fernández said in a statement. “I will continue to explore every single opportunity available to pass this bill through Congress.”

A bipartisan group of 15 lawmakers, including all three New Mexico House members pushed for its inclusion in the spending bill.Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Arizona) told Cronkite News it was a matter of “fundamental fairness” in an interview last week.

“We’ve got to get it done for the people that suffered unknowingly because of actions of the federal government,” Stanton said. “We need to make sure that the RECA system, which is a good program … actually reaches all the people that have been touched by the nuclear testing.”

Johnson has potentially softened on bringing the measure forward in a separate vote, according to a statement announcing RECA would not be in the spending package. 

He praised Missouri Republican lawmaker Rep. Ann Wagner, further saying “I understand her position and I look forward to working closely with Ann as we chart a path together for the House to move forward with evaluating and acting on a reauthorization measure,” he told reporters. 

An emailed request for comment to Johnson’s office regarding his position on RECA was not returned Tuesday.

radiation, Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, extend