With the anniversary of 9/11 looming, so is something else — a need for money for survivors of the attack on New York's World Trade Center.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats are scrambling to address an impending $3 billion funding deficit for a federal health care program that pays for the ongoing medical care of 9/11 survivors and first responders.
If the funding shortfall is not addressed, the program will not be able to accommodate any new members starting October 2024, according to a letter from Rep. Andrew Garbarino of New York and 11 other GOP House members to the Democratic chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
“If Congress does not quickly address this impending crisis, then the men and women who put their lives on the line and who survived the 9/11 terrorist attacks will lose health coverage to treat the physical and mental illnesses that they sustained on that fateful day,” reads the Sept. 8 letter to Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey.
Known as the World Trade Center Health Program, the program was established by Congress to pay for any illnesses related to the community’s exposure at ground zero. This includes police, cleanup volunteers and firefighters who have struggled with higher rates of cancer in the intervening two decades.
The program, which has been fraught with issues in the past, needs additional funds “due to a rise in medical costs and cancer rates over the last three years,” according to the letter.
The letter urges action on a bipartisan bill aimed to address the funding deficit that has since stalled. In 2021, “The 9/11 Responder and Survivor Health Funding Correction Act” was introduced by Democratic New York Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler with support from Garbarino and Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, but there has been little movement since.
In response to the letter, Pallone said, "Before passing the House, the legislation was marked up in my Energy and Commerce Committee and so there is no reason to mark it up in the House Committee again. It’s now the Senate’s responsibility to take action, and I encourage my Republican colleagues to begin working on Senate Republicans, who have the power to pass this bill. It’s critical the Senate act so that we can ensure all 9/11 first responders continue to receive the medical treatment that they rightfully deserve.”
After the bill was introduced last year, House Democrats initially tried to push the WTCHP funding through President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” legislation. The bill, however, was killed last December. All of the Republicans who signed the letter voted against passing that piece of legislation.
Garbarino and other Republican House members instead favor a stand-alone approach.
“Fully funding this program has bipartisan support and should be brought up for a stand-alone vote without delay, not be buried in divisive partisan packages,” Garbarino told NBC News.
“The majority has been inexplicably dragging its feet on moving this crucial legislation forward, which is why we are urging Chairman Pallone to take action. 9/11 first responders and survivors deserve to have certainty about their continued access to care for 9/11-related health conditions,” he said.
All seven Republican House members from New York signed the letter to Pallone.
Sen. Gillibrand also believes the bipartisan bill is the best chance at ensuring the health care program can continue to care for the over 100,000 responders and survivors it currently provides for.
“My bill, the 9/11 Responder and Survivor Health Funding Correction Act, would provide the resources needed to ensure the WTCHP can continue now and into the future. Without this funding, more than 118,000 responders and survivors currently enrolled in the program could see their access to treatment affected, and those seeking treatment in the future may not be able to receive it at all,” Gillibrand told NBC News.
Earlier this summer, Gillibrand urged that the bill be included in either the upcoming reconciliation package or in the year-end National Defense Authorization Act.
With time running out, if no new funds are allotted, the program projects its ability to provide services will be impacted from 2025, despite the program being authorized to run until at least 2090.