The Trump administration siphoned nearly $4 million from a program that was set up to track and treat FDNY firefighters and medics that have suffered illnesses due to their being on duty at ground zero on 9/11.
Nearly four years ago the Treasury Department began mysteriously withholding parts of payments that were meant to cover medical services for firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics that are treated by the FDNY World Trade Center Health Program.
This information was obtained in documents that were leaked to the Daily News.
The program is overseen by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and they authorized the payments.
However, instead of the payments being sent to the city for first responders the treasury kept some of the promised funding.
“This was just disappearing,” the program’s director, Dr. David Prezant, told The News. “This is the most amazing thing. This was disappearing — without any notification.”
Prezant went on to share that he was docked around a half a million dollars each year in both 2016 and 2017. He then adds that in 2018 and 2019 it crept up to more than $630,000 and by late August it had diverted more than $1.447 million.
“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,” said Prezant, who is also the FDNY’s Chief Medical Officer.
“And for years, they wouldn’t even tell us — we never ever received a letter telling us this,” he added.
Prezant stated that despite countless tries he was never able to get an explanation from the NIOSH about where the missing funding was.
Prezant says that he complained and raised red flags for years before he finally got a partial answer when Long Island Republican Rep. Pete King put his political weight behind looking into the missing funding.The answer they received at that time was that some other agency in the city has been in an unrelated feud with the feds over Medicare bills.
So, the Treasury decided to rip off the FDNY.
King stated that whatever the circumstance is it has forced a premier program for sick 9/11 first responders to beg for help on the eve on the 19th anniversary of the attack —” it has to end.”
“It’s disgraceful,” King said. “I don’t even care what the details of this thing are. That fund has to be fully compensated, fully reimbursed. I mean, this is absurd,” he said. “If anyone were true American heroes, it was the cops and firemen on 9/11, especially the firemen, and for even $1 to be being held back is absolutely indefensible.”King says that he penned a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin during the summer and asked what the problem was and for a solution.He says his communication was ignored so he penned a second letter.
King states that he will confront Vice President Mike Pence on Friday when they are both attending the Tunnel to Towers event honoring the anniversary. “I gotta tell him,” King said. “Forget politics. I don’t want to sound naive, but this is terrible, absolutely inexcusable
Sen. Chuck Schumer says that he is equally as disgusted.“ The Trump Treasury Department siphoning congressionally appropriated funds meant to pay for 9/11 workers’ healthcare is an outrageous finger in the eye to the firefighters, cops and other first responders who risked their lives for us,” Schumer said.”This needs to stop forthwith and payments to the workers’ health program must be made whole — and now,” Schumer said in a statement.
The temporary health program was created in 2010 by Congress along with the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.The program was extended by 75 years in Dec. 2015, after sick and dying 9/11 workers made hundreds of trips to the Capitol pleading with officials to extend the program.“I’m not sure quite what to make of this other than it’s despicable,” said Jake Lemonade, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. “We’ve fought very hard for many years for these funds to provide proper medical treatment for our sick and injured. The withholding of these funds without a legitimate explanation is inexcusable.”
Prezant adds that he has been able to keep functioning because the Fire Department fronts the program the money, but adds that he did so with the understanding that the feds would reimburse the funding under the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.
Congress and the government designed the program to be self-sufficient. Prezant says that the lack of reimbursement means they do less to support the sick.