WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers and activists Thursday renewed their call for a permanent extension of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act a day after congressional authorization for the health program expired.
The World Trade Center Health Program has enough funding to last another year, its backers acknowledge, but they said it will have to begin shutting down in the spring unless Congress acts to renew it before the end of the year.
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"You'd think it would be easy to get this done, considering all the legislators who say they'll never forget, who make promises each anniversary to honor the heroes on 9/11," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday on the Senate floor.
But when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was asked if he would hold a vote on the extension before the health program expired, Schumer said, "The majority leader said he'd have to check and get back on that."
McConnell spokesman Don Stewart repeated the majority leader's statement from last week that the committees considering the extension are working on it, and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had confirmed that the program still has funding.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), the extension's chief Senate sponsor, took to the floor Wednesday to urge a vote on the measure.
"A majority of this body has already signed on as co-sponsors of this legislation," said Gillibrand, referring to the bill's 56 co-sponsors in the Senate and 179 in the House. "So let's finish the job."
Congress placed an expiration date of Oct. 1, 2015, on the health program and an Oct. 1, 2016, expiration date on the compensation program when the Zadroga Act became law in 2011.
The health program offers health care for 33,000 people and monitors another 40,000 people who responded to or survived the 9/11 attacks.
Its federal funding was $235.7 million in 2014 and $243.4 million in 2015 and the Obama administration asked for $267.7 million for 2016. But no 2016 budget has been approved.
Activist John Feal said police, firefighters and others, many of them ailing, are planning another trip to Washington to lobby lawmakers on Oct. 13. Ben Chevat, a former aide to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) who directs the citizens group, offered a timeline if Congress does not act this year:
Next winter, the health program would begin to have trouble retaining or hiring staff because of funding uncertainty.
In the spring, Chevat said, the program would begin notifying beneficiaries to seek other doctors and insurance.
In the summer, the program would prepare for a shutdown, and on Sept. 30, 2016, the program will close its doors.