Congressman Joe Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx) joined the chorus of legislators lambasting potential cuts to funding for the Zadroga Act through a sequestration deal cooked up by Congress last winter to shove the nation toward a balanced budget.
The oft-lambasted forced cuts to federal spending would slash $38 million from the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, hitting programs such as Elmhurst Hospital’s WTC Environmental Health Center.
“We need to go back and suspend sequestration before it takes effect,” Crowley said, “and find a more responsive approach to this.”
The sequestration deal has become a common refrain in the 2012 presidential election. It was part of a broader trade-off that allowed the nation’s debt ceiling to be increased, while creating a Congressional “Super Committee” with broad powers to make budgetary decisions with the goal of reducing the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over the next ten years. Should the committee fail, $1 trillion in combined defense and social spending would be automatically cut, or “sequestered,” in January 2013.
The forced cuts were meant to serve as a motivator to get the bipartisan committee to iron out a deal before Thanksgiving 2011. It failed.
The potential loss in funding at the federal level would be hard to make up for, according to the center’s director, Terry Miles. The hospital’s patients include volunteers and workers who spent days at Ground Zero helping clear the wreckage. Their illnesses vary from cancer to respiratory ailments to post-traumatic stress disorder, and are treated by a staff that has developed its knowledge through continuing treatment of the 9/11 patients, according to Miles.
“It would be really hard to keep the program going as is,” he said.
The Zadroga Act took a decade of legislative wrangling before ultimately setting up a means to treat lingering health issues for volunteers and first responders who helped in the months following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. It also compensates the families of victims who succumbed to illnesses resulting from the attack.
The act, named after Detective James Zadroga, who died at age 34 after working on the World Trade Center pile, was signed into law by President Obama two years ago. It is meant to cover and compensate those directly affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.