Over a course of years, the Trump administration has secretly withheld nearly $4 million from a program that covers medical services for 9/11 first responders in New York City. The withholding apparently began pre-Trump, in 2016, but the majority of the missing money has been withheld by the Trump team. The program in question — the FDNY World Trade Center Health Program — “tracks and treats FDNY firefighters and medics suffering from 9/11 related illnesses,” according to the New York Daily News, which broke the story.
For years, the Treasury Department gave no explanation for the withheld funds, even as the program’s director, Dr. David Prezant, sought answers behind the scenes. After local Republican Congressman Pete King stepped in to also seek an answer, info emerged that “some other agency in the city has been in an unrelated feud with the feds over Medicare bills,” as the Daily News reported. Thus, the decision to withhold funds from the FDNY program for 9/11 first responders sounds rather punitive.
Prezant has kept his operation afloat via money from the Fire Department itself. Under the provisions of the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, those involved in the arrangement expect the federal government to eventually reimburse the Fire Department for the expenses. No matter the temporary stopgap, there have still been issues — Prezant says that the missing money “means that physicians, nurses and support staff are not hired.” Nobody has been laid off yet, but the program is “at that brink,” Prezant said.
The amount of money being withheld from the program each year has ticked up over time — during this year through August, the Feds had held back $1.447 million. Prezant commented:
‘Here we have sick World Trade Center-exposed firefighters and EMS workers, at a time when the city is having difficult financial circumstances due to COVID-19, and we’re not getting the money we need to be able to treat these heroes.’
Pete King, the Congressman, indicated that he planned to bring the issue up with Vice President Mike Pence in person when they both attended Friday’s Tunnel to Towers memorial event. King commented:
‘I gotta tell him. Forget the politics. I don’t want to sound naive, but this is terrible, absolutely inexcusable.’
It’s noteworthy that these millions of dollars have been withheld while the Trump administration has apparently found no problem with efforts like pursuing billions of dollars for their southern border wall project. Their priorities rest with scoring political points.