By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
As the March 1 deadline for deep automatic federal budget cuts – known as sequestration – loomed, a group of lawmakers expressed concern about the effect cuts would have on Sept. 11 first responders whose medical treatments are covered by the government under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.
US Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Brooklyn-Manhattan) was among the elected officials speaking out on Feb. 28 to call on colleagues to negotiate a budget deal to avoid sequestration.
Nadler joined his House colleagues, US Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) and US Rep. Peter King (R-Long Island), along with U.S. senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, to warn that cuts would really hurt 9/11 first responders who need to have their health issues addressed. The Zadroga Act would face $27 million in funding cuts under sequestration, the lawmakers said.
Gillibrand and King have introduced legislation that would permanently exempt the 9/11 program from budget cuts should sequestration go into effect at any time in the future.
“We must safeguard every last dollar we allocated for our bill, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, and ensure that sequestration does not force us to ration assistance for the sick,” Nadler said. “Thousands of 9/11 responders and survivors are sick today because of their exposure to toxins in and around Ground Zero, and they depend on this funding for their health and well-being. We are calling on Congress to exempt Zadroga from the imminent sequester-borne cuts,” he said.
During last summer's debt-ceiling crisis, a deal was reached to automatically cut over $1 trillion in defense and domestic programs, known as sequestration, if a “super committee” could not reach a balanced deficit reduction plan.
“Nothing exemplifies this unbalanced and draconian approach to deficit reduction more than asking our heroes who have already sacrificed so much to sacrifice yet again,” Gillibrand said. “Our 9/11 heroes who answered the call of duty should be treated with the same dignity as our veterans,” she added.
The Zadroga Act was named in memory of Det. James Zadroga. According to Wikipedia, Zadroga died in 2006 of a respiratory illness that was traced back to his work at Ground Zero in the weeks and months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“This is one of the most poignant examples of why we must work to avert the sequester,” Schumer said.
Medical experts agreed with the lawmakers.
“These cuts will affect the health monitoring and treatment currently being provided to thousands of WTC responders and survivors,” said Dr. Jim Melius, chairman of theWTCMedical Program Steering Committee and 9/11 Health Watch Board Member.
“Many of these people have serious illnesses that require very expensive medical care and medications, and many do not have health insurance or other resources to pay for this care on their own. It is unfair to once again hold the health of these heroes hostage to partisan Washington politics. Hopefully, this legislation will pass and prevent this from happening,” he said.