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Obama promises to help with 9/11 health care bill

Local legislators and 9/11 responders won a breakthrough Wednesday in their push to get the Obama administration to support a specific health care bill for Ground Zero workers.

Dozens of first responders - many from Long Island - had returned to Ground Zero Wednesday to protest inaction over the measure. But as they rallied to garner support for the bill, HR847, President Barack Obama said he was willing to work with Congress on the measure.

Obama met Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats, telling them that while he had not carefully read the bill that would provide $11 billion in funding for the next 30 years for 9/11-related illnesses, he would work to pass it.

"I fully commit to working with you guys," Obama said, responding to a question Gillibrand posed during a conference in Washington.

"Keep in mind that our budget already significantly increased funding precisely for this purpose," he added, calling it "a top priority for the administration." Obama was referring to the $150-million appropriation for 9/11 health care in his 2011 budget, more than twice the $70-million allocation in the 2010 budget.

The development was heartening news for firefighters, police and several other first responders who organized Wednesday's news conference after a report that the Obama administration did not support it.

The group had learned Friday via members of New York's congressional delegation that U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius did not support a separate bill, favoring funding through her agency's budget instead.

John Feal, of Nesconset, who said he gathered more than 50 people for the Ground Zero news conference, said he was relieved at Obama's clarification, but he would not rest until the bill becomes law.

"I'm still angry, and I'm cautious because I believe in this president," said Feal, founder of the Feal Good Foundation, which works to raise awareness and educate the public about the catastrophic health effects on 9/11 first responders. "I'm optimistic. Sooner or later somebody in Washington has to do what's morally right and I think it's going to be this president."

With Keith Herbert

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