Feds to restore millions they took from sick FDNY 9/11 heroes
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration will finally pay back millions the federal government took from the FDNY’s 9/11 treatment program over the last four years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified Rep. Pete King (R-Long Island) late Friday that an alphabet soup of federal agencies — including the Treasury Department — will return $3.3 million that was docked from the program that cares for firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians sickened by exposure to the toxic rubble of the Twin Towers.
Rep. Peter King (R-NY) speaks during a news conference with (L-R) Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), John Feal, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), emergency responders from New York and members of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to announce their support for the permanent reauthorization of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act outside the U.S. Capitol November 17, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
“It’s a great victory for really deserving people,” King told the Daily News Saturday. “I mean this just never should have happened, but we fought hard, we got it done.”
The slashing of the critical funding was reported exclusively by the The News last month, on the eve of 19th anniversary of the terror attacks.
Federal officials dithered for weeks trying to figure out how to account for the galling deductions, how much money was missing, who was to blame, and whether to return the cash.
The funds were apparently taken to offset still-unexplained disputes over Medicare debts the city has with the feds.
The FDNY’s chief medical officer, Dr. David Prezant, noticed growing gaps in the payouts, and asked for answers. For well over a year, he got nowhere.
But after he brought it to King’s office, the Treasury Department offered a partial accounting in March, though it gave no real explanation or solution to the problem.
“It has taken too long for this fix to be implemented, for a problem that never should have occurred in the first place,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y ). “I’m relieved that the program will be made whole and that any future disputes with NYC over possible debts will not involve holding 9/11 heroes' healthcare hostage.”
There are still bureaucratic details to iron out, but now Prezant can start to fill 21 jobs left vacant at the treatment program because he couldn’t pay doctors, nurses and support staff.
“This takes care of one very important issue that will allow us to provide the exceptional care that our firefighters and EMS workers deserve after being exposed to 9/11,” Prezant said. “Once this money is actually transferred and officially recorded, then we have to work on getting these people hired.”
For King, the entire experience is baffling.
“Even just the optics of it should have been enough, apart from the morality and apart from the lack of decency here, just the optics of it where you’re talking about 9/11 FDNY victims who were the face of 9/11 -- to be putting their health at risk over a bookkeeping issue, which didn’t even involve them,” King said.
Prezant credits The News for shedding a light on the dark decisions made in Washington.
“Without your help and your constant publicity on this issue, none of this would have happened because we’d been trying for over a year on our own to make this happen. And it wasn’t moving forward at all,” Prezant told The News. “You’re amazing. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”