LOWER MANHATTAN — Federal funds that are supposed to help sick 9/11 first responders should not go toward filling government budget gaps instead, politicians said at a press conference on Monday.
The $4.3 billion James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which went into effect last year, is in danger of losing $38 million if Congress does not reach a deficit-reduction deal by the end of the year, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer said.
"Today we draw our feet in the sand and show them we're not going to accept this," said John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, which advocates for 9/11 first responders and recovery workers.
The $38 million is part of a much larger $1 trillion in threatened budget cuts, called a "sequester." The package of cuts was intended to be so severe that Congress would find another way to reduce the deficit rather than allowing it to go forward.
But even though politicians on both sides of the aisle are scrambling to reach a deal, none has materialized. So, for now, the federal government is planning to go ahead with the cuts, including $24 million that was supposed to compensate sick or injured 9/11 first responders and another $14 million that was supposed to go toward treating their illnesses, officials said.
Gillibrand said the cuts were especially galling because the Zadroga Act included provisions that actually generated revenue for the federal government, through new fees to pay for the programs.
"The 9/11 healthcare law does not add to the deficit," Gillibrand said. "I am optimistic that Congress can and will come together around our core and common values to form a new deficit reduction."
Schumer pointed out that military veterans are not having their services cut under the proposal, so he said 9/11 first responders shouldn't either.
"We say that our 9/11 heroes should be treated like the veterans and exempt them [from the cuts] once and for all," Schumer said.
Joseph Zadroga, whose son James Zadroga died from a respiratory disease he developed while working in the debris at the World Trade Center, said he hopes the bill that bears his son's name weathers the cuts intact.
"I hope that they do the right thing," Zadroga said. "I hope they put the money back into the bill where it belongs."