Wednesday, October 17, 2012
 

 

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NY lawmakers unify to protect program that helps sick and injured first responders

NEW YORK – With the deadline nearing for Congress to negotiate a balanced deficit-cutting package or face deep automatic cuts across federal programs - known as sequestration - U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Charles Schumer (D-NY), joined by Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Peter King (R-NY), and 9/11 first responders and survivors, stood at Ground Zero today calling on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to exempt the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act from automatic budget cuts should sequestration go into effect on January 1, 2013. The 2013 budget cuts already exempt veterans and at least six federal programs which aid the sick and injured from sequestration cut, including the Payment to Radiation Exposure Compensation Trust Fund, Radiation Exposure Compensation Trust Fund, Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Fund, Vaccine Injury Compensation, Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Trust Fund, and the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. In total, the OMB has included 150 exemptions to date – including the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation Fund and pensions for former Presidents.

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. Despite clear precedent for an exemption for health and compensation programs, a preliminary report by OMB shows that $24 million is slated to be slashed from the 9/11 Bill's Victim Compensation Fund, and an additional $14 million would be cut from the World Trade Center Health Fund in 2013.

The lawmakers emphasized that Congressional members from both parties must come together to work towards an alternative to sequestration – a process they believe to be the wrong approach to deficit reduction, and was only to be triggered as a matter of last resort. In the event that these automatic cuts to military and non-discretionary spending do take place, however, New York’s elected leaders will fight to save 9/11 funds from any sequester cuts.

The lawmakers wrote in a September 28th letter to OMB Acting Director Zients, “[W]e all agree that applying sequestration to these two programs [established by the James Zadroga 9-11 Health and Compensation Act] does not make sense, is not consistent with Congressional intent, does not follow precedent regarding trust funds provided for victims, and we would urge OMB to reconsider this initial finding if it is required to proceed with a sequester… We are concerned that OMB has not fully investigated the facts under which these programs operate.”

“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,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Our 9/11 heroes who answered the call of duty should be treated with the same dignity as our veterans. Just as we have come together as Democrats and Republicans to fight for our heroes, I urge our colleagues to do the same and work towards a balanced approach that keeps struggling families from sacrificing the most.”