By Naina Rao and Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The proposal to extend and expand the expiring Radiation Exposure Compensation Act program almost hit the finish line. However, at the last minute, the proposed language bounced when the bicameral conference committee dropped it from the final version of the 2024 defense spending policy bill, which was signed by President Biden in December.
It turns out, the language inserted in the Senate's version of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act didn’t come with a funding source. “Just as just as with anything, you have to have a funding source attached,” said Bobby Shringi, Guam Del. James Moylan’s chief of staff.
“As soon as this measure got to the House of Representatives, which was led by Republican leadership, it would technically be dead on arrival," he added.
Congress took the provision off the table for now and without an extension, the RECA fund currently expires in July 2024.
Moylan is among the sponsors of the RECA expansion measure. The chopped provision would expand the coverage area to allow more potential victims, those who lived downwind of above-ground atomic weapons tests in the 1950s and 1960s, known as “downwinders,” to file for compensation under RECA.
Guam would have been covered by this measure, based on the National Research Council’s 2005 report declaring the territory’s eligibility for compensation under the RECA program.
“Guam did receive measurable fallout from atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific between 1946 and 1958,” read the council’s report, which recommended that people living on island during that period be compensated under RECA “in a way similar to that of persons considered to be downwinders.”
Guam advocates who have fought for decades for recognition are confronted with yet another disappointment.
“To be honest, we were very ecstatic about how far it went. This is the closest we have come to a finish line,” Shringi said. “Now at the 11th hour, as the NDAA was being finalized, we did not find the magic number. They were short about $8 billion or $10 billion.”
Despite the defeat, RECA proponents are not quitting. “Because this issue has come this close, you can't let go. You have to continue it. You have to try to find a way to get it to the finish line,” Shringi said. “Otherwise, you're starting from scratch again.”
“There are two things that have to happen. One, you have to find the additional funding. Two, you have to find the vehicle. So while they are looking for the funding on the Senate side, we are working on the vehicle on the House side.”
While the process can be very challenging, Shringi said, “The beauty of it is that the RECA is far from over. It's come this far. Let's try to get to the finish line.”