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House Appropriations approves $3 million for firefighter cancer coverage

Kate Wells

Firefighters have been pushing to get the cancer coverage they were promised by state lawmakers for more than a year now. 

And while the $3 million approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday still has to be approved by the full House and Senate, it is a sign that crucial Republican leaders are on board. 

That's what Michigan firefighters have been waiting for. 

Last January, the state created a fund providing workers' compensation coverage for firefighters who get job-related cancer. 

But despite specific instructions from Gov. Rick Snyder, those same lawmakers failed to put any money in that fund – leaving firefighters out in the cold when they tried to get help with their medical bills. 

Since then, another 13 firefighters have been diagnosed with cancers that are scientifically linked to the risks of the job, according to the state firefighters union. One of them died this winter. 

Meanwhile, firefighters from around the state have been showing up in Lansing, rallying on the steps of the state Capitol and visiting lawmakers in their offices, asking the same question: Where's our cancer coverage? 

Union president Mark Docherty credits their persistance – and their very public presence – with moving things forward. 

"It is amazing, and I thank our firefighters for coming forward, and expressing exactly what this means to them," he says. "Our representatives and our senators are understanding how this impacts our firefighters, and their lives, and their families."

Still, Docherty says, they've been promised this once before – so he says he can't feel relieved just yet. 

"Not yet. I'll be able to take a deep breath and relax when my members are actually receiving payments from this fund, and the fund is actually taking care of them. We're getting close, and I'm very optimistic, and I'm very happy for the progress we've made."

Meanwhile, House Speaker Kevin Cotter voiced his support.

"The Appropriations Committee did the right thing adding this critical funding to the budget before it moves onto the House floor. Local firefighters are heroes who keep our communities and families safe," Cotter said in a statement today. "With this new program, the state of Michigan has their back."

If approved, the $3 million would be available for firefighters in the 2016-2017 fiscal year. The Senate has already passed a bill allocating $1 million for the firefighters fund in the current fiscal year, which is still waiting for lawmakers in the House to approve.  

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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