NYC Mayor Asks for Federal Aid for 9/11 Workers

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg sounded the alarm on the 9/11 health crisis at a Senate hearing on March 21, stating that the city urgently needs at least $150 million in federal funding to help monitor and treat rescue workers who are stricken with World Trade Center cough.

“Congress cannot turn its back on those who responded with courage and suffered through this terrible catastrophe," Bloomberg said at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which was held by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.; Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.; and Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.

According to Bloomberg, further federal aid is needed to continue to funding health programs run by Mount Sinai Medical Center, Bellevue Hospital Center and the New York City Fire Department – programs that Bloomberg said have produced “valuable research, [resulting] in the publication of clinical guidelines for doctors so that we can best treat the illnesses we see now and what we may see in the future.”

The World Trade Center Panel, convened by Bloomberg last year, estimated that the total cost of treating those who are sick or could become sick as a result of 9/11 is $393 million per year, which also covers rescue workers who traveled to New York City from the rest of the country. The panel recommended that the federal government should provide, at a minimum, $153 million to keep the programs running.

Clinton has offered legislation that would spend $1.9 billion for health care treatment for a 5-year period, a bill that Bloomberg said he fully supports.

“This bill needs to be passed – and quickly,” Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg: 9/11 Fund Needs to Be Reopened

The mayor also asked for Congress's help in reopening the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which was closed in December 2003. He noted that reopening the fund not only would provide compensation to those who were not eligible to benefit from it before it shut down in September but also to “eliminate the potential liability that the city and its contractors continue to face in court.”

According to Bloomberg, about 8,000 employees are filing lawsuits against contractors and the city of New York. Congress has capped the city’s potential liability from the 9/11 attacks at $350 million and set up a $1 billion fund to insure the city and its contractors from suits arising out of the Ground Zero cleanup.

Bloomberg reiterated that he would prefer to see the money spent in litigation go into the pockets of the victims of the 9/11 aftermath rather than in lawyers' pockets. He suggested that if such liability is eliminated, “we could immediately transfer that $1 billion into the reopened Victim Compensation Fund – making it the fund's first major installment. “

“Using federal resources to compensate claims – instead of litigating them – would mark an important step in healing the rifts that have surfaced since 9/11,” Bloomberg said.

Enzi: Bloomberg Asking for “Quite a Bit of Money”

Both Kennedy and Clinton expressed sympathy for Bloomberg's arguments, but Republican Senators Enzi and Tom Colburn, R-Okla., while gentle in their questioning, said the mayor was asking for “quite a bit of money.”

Enzi said that he would be sending a request for Bloomberg to “carefully delineate the dollars [he] is talking about.” Colburn suggested that instead of the yearly appropriation of $150 million that Bloomberg is asking for, the government should create a permanent endowment to cover health costs for rescue workers.

Bloomberg said he is open to the idea.

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