Connetquot High School seniors were permitted to purchase and paint their own parking spots for the year, with the money going back to the student government to lower the cost of other events throughout the year. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

A fund to provide medical care to 9/11 first responders and others who were around Ground Zero in the weeks and months after the 2001 terrorist attacks is running low on money — because so many more people than expected were sickened by toxins in the air, advocates say.

There is a deficit of $3 billion, and care could need to be rationed as soon as next year, according to U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who spoke in Manhattan on the anniversary of the attacks. 
At issue is the World Trade Center Health Program, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is authorized through 2090.

Speaking Sunday afternoon near his Manhattan office, Schumer said that absent the funding, more than 118,000 beneficiaries who are now 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,” Schumer’s office said in a news release.

In a letter dated Sept. 8, nearly a dozen Republicans urged the funding.

“As we noted then, 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,” the letter said.

At the Schumer event, John Feal, a first responder from Nesconset who lost half his left foot after working to clear rubble from Ground Zero, said: “We can’t help those who died on 9/11, but we can help those who are sick and injured. We can help those by getting the $3 billion put back in the World Trade Center Health Program.”

Feal said that in 2015, there were 76,000 people in the program; now there are 118,000.

“Nobody took into account in 2015 that that many people would be in the program. And here we are today,” Feal said.

The brother of former NYPD Det. Luis Alvarez of Oceanside, who died of cancer linked to his Ground Zero work but who before his death urged Congress to help first responders, also attended the Schumer news conference.

Phil Alvarez recalled his brother's words and said: “Let's get this done. There’s a lot of people getting sick that are gonna need this. It was what my brother’s wish was.”

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