downtownexpress.com
Volume 19 Issue 38 | February 2 -8, 2007

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Seigel

During a 9/11 health rally on Wednesday, Marvin Bethea displayed the medications he takes.

Down payment or chump change?
Bush 9/11 pledge hailed and assailed

President Bush came to Lower Manhattan Wednesday promising $25 million for 9/11 workers in need of health care. New York optimists called it a starting point to get all of the money needed while others said the glass was nine-tenths empty at best.

The president, who delivered an economic address at Federal Hall on Wall St., also met privately with Ceasar Borja, 21, who last week attended the State of the Union address hours after he learned his father, a police detective, had died from a respiratory ailment believed to have been contracted from his recovery work at the World Trade Center site.

“I’m not quoting Mr. President, but what I heard is that there will be more support,” Borja said, according to news reports. “I felt a dedication. I felt the motivation and appreciation as well that the president has for my father, my family and myself for coming this far.”

The $25 million will go to Mount Sinai’s health program for W.T.C. site workers, which is expected to run out of money this summer. U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler said Mount Sinai had previously said it needed $250 million. He and others said Lower Manhattan residents and office workers suffering from ailments that may be connected to exposure to W.T.C. dust or toxins in the air also need health care funds.

“Since Sept. 11th, 2001, President Bush has never met with the residents, not a single one,” Catherine McVay Hughes, a Downtown resident and a leader in the 9/11 environmental efforts, said at a rally that coincided with the president’s visit. “We are now asking that he does, and that President Bush supports those that live and work in the shadow of the former World Trade Center towers.”

At his press conference, Borja said he “expressed [to the president] how the funding should be expanded not just for heroes and heroines that without hesitation ran to save, rescue and ensure a future for all of the lives that they would find there that they could bring home.”

White House spokespersons indicated more money will be coming, although apparently not for residents, according to wire service reports. “We consider this a good starting point,” said Sean Kevelighan, a Bush spokesperson. Tony Snow, White House press secretary said: “First responders who need treatment will get the treatment they need. Many are already covered by insurance programs, many through their union; but if there are gaps in that, we’re going to do it.”

Members of New York’s Congressional delegation, who are backing a bill for $1.9 billion in 9/11-related health care money, had varied reactions to the Bush announcement. Representatives Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat, and Vito Fossella, a Republican, were the most upbeat, calling it a “breakthrough” in a joint release. Sen. Hillary Clinton was more measured, calling it “an important first step” but also cautioned that it not become a “hollow promise.”

Nadler, whose district includes the site, was the most critical, pointing out the next fiscal budget doesn’t start until October, so Mount Sinai may have no money for several months, and may be able to stay open for only a few months if it gets the $25 million.

Spokespersons for Mount Sinai declined to comment.

Marvin Bethea, a paramedic and 9/11 responder suffering from asthma, sinusitis, post-traumautic stress disorder and depression, criticized the relatively small promise during the rally. “Don’t tease us by giving us a piece of steak and letting us have a couple of bites out of it and then tell us, four months from now, there is no more steak, there is no more treatment,” he said.

Craig Hall, a Downtown resident, said there shouldn’t be distinctions between people whose health was affected by the attack: “We’re all in the same boat,” he said. “No one can be excluded from this, unfortunately.”

— Josh Rogers, Jefferson Siegel and Skye H. McFarlane

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