Speaker Johnson Advances Unjust RECA Extension Without Reforms to Aid Those Sickened by Manhattan Project

Speaker Johnson’s Flawed RECA bill Would Deny Health Screenings, Compensation for Downwind Communities, Uranium Workers

Published May 29, 2024

Media Contact

When the House returns from recess on June 3 and with just three working days to act on the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) before it expires, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA-04) will bring legislation to the floor to extend the flawed program by two years without expanding who the program covers. This would be a giant step backwards, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and people harmed by nuclear testing and production.

In a 69 to 30 vote, the Senate already passed bipartisan legislation to improve the program by providing health care screenings and limited financial reimbursement to communities sickened by nuclear weapons tests conducted in New Mexico and Nevada, uranium mining and nuclear waste. This legislation stands ready for a vote in the House but has been ignored by Johnson.

Efforts to extend an exclusionary RECA have been condemned by impacted communities and opposed in the Senate.

“A simple extension is justice delayed, and we can’t afford to wait any longer while more people die,” said Mary Dickson, a former journalist, cancer survivor and downwinder from Salt Lake City, Utah.

“Slamming the door on sick community members' faces who have begged for help for months from Speaker Johnson is horrific! I can’t believe after an hour and a half meeting with his staffer this is the outcome he landed on!” said Dawn Chapman, co-founder of Just Moms STL.

“This bill is an affront to all the downwinders and others who have patiently waited for years for justice to be done,” said Linda Chase, an author and downwinder from Nevada. “The original RECA statute excluded many people who were exposed to radiation by the nuclear testing program. A two-year extension of that woefully inadequate bill sends these victims a clear message: Your sacrifice means nothing, you don’t matter. The House still has a chance to do the right thing by passing the new RECA extension passed by the Senate, which expands coverage to those previously excluded from the original bill. It’s not too late for the people’s representatives to stand up for the people.”

“A 2-year extension of the current RECA program is not a solution for all those American citizens that were unwittingly harmed by the U.S government's development and testing of nuclear devices. The people of New Mexico and everyone else that have been horribly harmed by our government deserve better,” said Tina Cordova, executive director of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, a sixth generation New Mexican and cancer survivor. “We will not give up this fight. We will not go away quietly. Eventually the members of the U.S. House who currently treat us like nothing more than collateral damage will have to come to terms with us.”

“Speaker Johnson’s proposed two-year extension of the existing RECA program is nothing more than a two-year extension of injustice,” said Matt Capalby, a downwinder in Kingman, Arizona. “Thousands of Arizonans have suffered and died for the sake of our national security. This proposed legislation is an insult to the victims and salt in the wounds of their families.”

“For Speaker Johnson to allow a 2-year extension of RECA and not allow the RECA Reauthorization Act to be put before Congress is a vote is unconscionable!” said Sherrie Hanna, a downwinder advocate in Prescott, Arizona. “It is very evident from all the testimony from the past several months that many more Americans were harmed by nuclear testing and nuclear waste than were originally indicated. This should never be about the money! It should be about the U.S. government righting a huge wrong committed on the American people.”

“Mike Johnson needs to understand he is playing with human life. My father Howard Billiman, a Navajo Code talker, died of stomach cancer. My mother Mary Louise Billiman died of respiratory-related illness. I myself have thyroid issues, pancreas disease and COPD. My whole family and community are dying,” said Maggie Billiman, member of the Navajo Nation, Sawmill chapter in Arizona. “We deserve help. Congress needs to make things right. I’m not going to give up the fight until I die.”

“RECA is not only an issue of helping those harmed by nuclear testing and uranium mining, but it’s an issue of national security. Nuclear weapons are why the United States is a military and economic superpower and uranium miners made that possible,” said Erin Anhalt, a Navy spouse of 21 years, mother of three, and member of the Secure Families Initiative. “We are in the middle of a recruiting and retention crisis in the military. How can we, as military spouses, look at our partners and say they should stay in when we see how hard people have to fight when they get injured by working to build the military? It sows distrust in the government to take care of our families when our spouses are injured in the line of duty. We’ve already watched veterans fighting for benefits from Agent Orange and burn pits. Now we are watching the government abandon another group of people who built the military into what it is today.”

“Two years ago, the House extended the flawed RECA program with the promise that they would use that time to fix the program. In those two years, people have gotten sicker, and people have died,” said Lilly Adams, senior outreach coordinator for the Global Security Program at UCS. “The borders of RECA eligibility have always been arbitrary. We know radiation does not stop at county lines. People just 20 miles from the Nevada test site have been excluded for decades. It makes no sense. When a hurricane hits, our government doesn’t just cover rural parts of Louisiana and leave out New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport because it would cost more – it helps everyone who was impacted. Radiation is not a natural disaster, but a man made one, by our own government. It would be heartless for Speaker Johnson to turn his back on these communities.  It would confirm that the government is letting people die before taking responsibility for its recklessness.” 

“For years, the federal government has turned its back on countless Arizonans exposed to nuclear radiation during Cold War era testing by the United States. RECA should not only be reauthorized but expanded to rightfully include all Arizonans, including those in Mohave County, poisoned by our government but mistakenly excluded from being compensated,” stated Congressman Paul Gosar (R-AZ-09).

“Next week, Speaker Johnson plans to rip off Missourians and thousands of others who are suffering from radioactive waste dumped in our backyards by the federal government. Failing to expand RECA is not a viable option. I’m a NO on any effort that doesn’t expand RECA NOW,” stated Congresswoman Cori Bush (D-MO-01).

“RECA without Missouri is dead on arrival. I will continue to fight for the expansion of RECA so Missourians are given the justice they deserve. The House can and must take up the Senate-passed expansion,” stated Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO-02).