NEW YORK, N.Y. — The Trump administration withheld nearly $4 million from a program tasked with treating FDNY firefighters and medical personnel suffering from 9/11 related illnesses, according to a report by the Daily News.
The Treasury Department reportedly began partially withholding payments nearly four years ago from a program that covers the medical costs for firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics who are treated by the FDNY World Trade Center Health Program, the Daily News reported.
According to the media outlet, instead of sending funding for the program to New York City, the Treasury started keeping some of the money instead.
The FDNY’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. David Prezant, who serves as the program’s director, told The News that the funding was “disappearing” without any notification.
Prezant told the paper that about half a million dollars went missing each year in 2016 and 2017. Funding went up to about $630,000 in 2018 and 2019. But this year, Prezant said Treasury diverted more than $1.4 million through late August.
“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,” Prezant told The News, adding that he was never able to get an explanation from the National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health, which oversees the program, or the mammoth Department of Health and Human Services, which has the agency under its umbrella.
Prezant was finally able to get an answer when Long Island Republican Rep. Peter King intervened. The News reported that King said New York City had been in an unrelated feud with the feds over Medicare bills and the Treasury, in turn, withheld payments to the FDNY.
King called the situation “disgraceful” and said he planned to confront Vice President Mike Pence on Friday at the Tunnel to Towers event honoring the 9/11 anniversary.
“I gotta tell him,” King told The News. “Forget the politics. I don’t want to sound naive, but this is terrible, absolutely inexcusable.”
Treasury Department spokeswoman Rebecca Miller told The News the administration took the FDNY funding to cover some of the city’s unrelated Medicare debt, which has been accumulating over the years.
However, Miller claimed her department didn’t know the funds were being redirected from the FDNY program and blamed the city’s “complicated” collection system, The News reported.
“It’s wrong, it shouldn’t happen this way, and we are doing everything that we can, working with the city to try and fix this really unfortunate situation,” Miller told The News.. “But at the end of the day, there are administrative hurdles and to a certain extent, our hands are tied by our statutory obligations.”
Miller told The News her department is working with the city and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to resolve the debt and return the cash to the FDNY 9/11 fund.
Rep. Max Rose and his Republican rival, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, both said the money needed to be returned to the FDNY fund.
South Shore Republican Councilman Joe Borelli, who chairs the City Council’s Committee on fire and Emergency Management and serves as President Donald Trump’s campaign honorary state chair, did respond to requests for comment for this story.
“There is not a single excuse that can justify defunding medical treatment for our heroes suffering from 9/11-related illnesses. Secretary Munchin doesn’t need to give us answers, he needs to give our heroes the money they’re owed. I’ve already been in touch with my colleagues on all avenues possible to right this wrong,” said Rose, who helped rally fellow members of Congress to support the Victims Compensation Act.
Malliotakis said: “I fully agree with Congressman Peter King that the funding should be immediately restored. I spent my morning honoring those who died at the Tunnel to Towers 9/11 event near Ground Zero. We, as a city and a nation, need to honor those who perished and stay strong in our commitment to the FDNY and all first responders and workers suffering from cancer, lung issues and other ailments linked to the toxins at Ground Zero.”