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BY COLIN MIXSON
Downtown pols and first responders rallied outside the US Capitol Building in Washington earlier this month to protest a provision in President Trump’s budget proposal that would deprive the World Trade Center Health Program of experienced staff and leadership, potentially crippling the healthcare program that thousands of rescuers and Downtown survivors rely on, according to one Downtown Congressman.
“The World Trade Center Health Program works,” said Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D–New York), who was among the original sponsors of the bill named for Det. James Zadroga, whose premature death from 9/11-related illness inspired the legislation. “Why on earth would we change it now, just two years after Congress reviewed and reauthorized it?”
The program monitors and provides healthcare for 83,000 9/11 responders and survivors, many of whom are or likely will be afflicted by illness related to the toxic dust that lingered Downtown in the wake of the deadly 2001 terror attack.
The healthcare benefits have so far been administered by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), but a budget proposal pitched by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney would reorganize the federal agency, shoving it under the umbrella of the National Institute of Health, and thereby depriving the WTC Health Program of the experienced leadership that NIOSH excels in, according to Nadler and other pols, including Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D–New York) and Congressman Peter King (R–Long Island), who fired off a bipartisan letter to Mulvaney condemning his proposal.
“NIOSH is dedicated to occupational health, the exact expertise that is needed by this injured population,” the letter read. “This will unnecessarily put at risk the health of those who have been made ill by 9/11, many of whom are still suffering, and in too many cases still dying, from their injuries 17 years later.”
And while Mulvaney’s proposal is clear in that it would deprive the 9/11 healthcare program of its experienced staff — despite a recent act of Congress extending the program under NIOSH leadership for 75 years — none of OMB’s documents describe how that process would work, or what would be done to mitigate the resulting loss of expertise, according to the letter.
“They also fail to address how OMB would propose changing the operation of WTCHP without adversely impacting the delivery of health services to 9/11 responders and survivors and without taking an unnecessary emotional toll on this already vulnerable population, a goal we are certain is shared by Congress and the administration,” the letter read.
Sen. Chuck Schumer joined the health care program’s original sponsors in Congress, and 9/11-victim advocates including former Daily Show host Jon Stewart, who condemned President Trump’s politicking as a deadly force.
“Haven’t these people endured enough?” Stewart asked. “If 9/11 cancer doesn’t kill them, I am pretty sure your politics will.”