Activists and politicians rallied at the World Trade Center in Manhattan Monday, urging President Barack Obama and Congress to protect millions in funding for 9/11 first responders and other survivors from looming budget cuts.
The group -- including New York Democractic Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Republican Rep. Peter King -- called on the White House's Office of Management and Budget to exclude the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act from automatic budget cuts scheduled to kick in on Jan. 1 unless federal lawmakers agree on a deficit-reduction plan before then.
A preliminary report by OMB shows that two programs under the Zadroga Act could lose $38 million total in 2013. The Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund could see a $24 million cut and the World Trade Center Health Fund could see a $14 million cut.
"We have come too far and our 9/11 heroes have endured too much for this funding to be subjected to a bureaucratic reduction," King said.
"It would be a cruel hoax to finally allow these individuals to start their necessary treatment, only to find out they will not be able to continue it through no fault of their own."It took activists and the New York congressional delegation years to persuade Congress to set aside $4.3 billion to treat and compensate first responders and other people exposed to dust, smoke and fumes at Ground Zero. Obama signed it into law in January 2011.
Then, during last summer's debt-ceiling crisis, a deal was reached to slash more than $100 billion in spending across all federal programs beginning on Jan. 1 unless a group of lawmakers, known as the "super committee," agrees on a deficit-reduction plan.
Congress identified 150 programs and exempted them from cuts, including payments to veterans and pensions for former U.S. presidents, but the Zadroga Act was not included because it hadn't yet become law.
"These cuts are dictated by the law passed by Congress, and the administration does not have discretion in implementing them, but we continue to aggressively urge Congress to take action to avoid sequestration," said Moira Mack, a spokeswoman for OMB.
The "super committee" has not come up with a plan to trim the federal deficit and unless lawmakers do so before Jan. 1, automatic cuts will take effect.
"It's a political fight between Republicans and Democrats and . . . that shouldn't be. We should be one country here," said Zadroga's father, Joseph Zadroga, 65, of Little Egg Harbor, N.J. "And, if it takes me; if I have to go down and chain myself to the fence of the White House, I will do that."