New York City firefighters amid debris following the Sept. 11, 2001,...

New York City firefighters amid debris following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in Manhattan. Credit: Universal History Archive/Univer/Universal History Archive

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday launched a campaign to pass a bill to cover the rest of the funding needed by the World Trade Center Health Program that could face hurdles in the Republican-controlled House.

The group led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-Bayport) said they will push for about $2 billion to fully fund the program after Congress in December approved only $1 billion of the $3.6 billion the program needs.

That $1 billion in funding would cover the costs of the current program through 2027.

But speakers at a news conference Tuesday said Congress should not wait until the last minute to pass additional funding, program fixes and expansion of access to the health care fund.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Members of Congress from both parties launched a campaign to pass a bill to cover the rest of the funding needed by the World Trade Center Health Program.
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-Bayport) and others said they would push for about $2 billion to fully fund the program.
  • Congress in December approved only $1 billion of the $3.6 billion the program needs.

This will be the latest — and advocates said they hoped the last — of a series of campaigns over the past two decades to get Congress to approve funding for health care for ailing firefighters, police and others who spent time in the toxic rubble rescuing and recovering victims of the al-Qaida terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Plan could meet GOP resistance

In the House, where Republicans have vowed to reduce federal spending and have changed rules to require cuts to offset increases in spending, bill sponsor Garbarino and co-sponsor Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-Island Park) will be key to winning support from colleagues.

“So, yeah, we have some new rules in the House. But this is something that I had some support of Republican leadership last year on,” Garbarino said. “It's something we had the votes for last year and we're going to continue to work on getting it done this year.”

Garbarino said Rep. Elisa Stefanik (R-Schuylerville), the House Republican Conference chair, has signed on as a co-sponsor, and last year Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), now the House speaker, supported the $3.6 billion funding for the health program.

In the Senate, where the $3.6 billion bill stalled last year, Gillibrand and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a bill co-sponsor, vowed to push the new measure through.

Schumer expects 'uphill fight'

“The strategy is the same as we've had in the past. It’s always been an uphill fight, and we have particular difficulty in getting some of the Republicans to go for this,” Schumer told Newsday.

“We basically just make the argument and arguments and arguments, and have the first responders and some of the victims make the argument, and we win them over,” Schumer said. “And I'm confident that'll happen again.”

The bill unveiled Tuesday also will extend coverage to responders at the Pentagon after terrorists crashed an airliner there and at Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where passengers forced down an al-Qaida hijacked airliner. An administrative ruling excluded them from the program.

After the news conference, Garbarino began working on other lawmakers by introducing them to his high school friend Jamie Atkinson, 42, of Sayville, who as a 19-year-old worked as a volunteer with the Community Ambulance Company at Ground Zero.

“I just did a quick little tour with him. We were at the Finance Committee. He brought me to Homeland Security. He brought me to Ethics,” Atkinson said after he and Garbarino visited a few House committees. 

Five years ago, Atkinson said he was diagnosed with an exceedingly rare stage 4 cancer.

Since then, Atkinson said, the World Trade Center Health Program has monitored his health and underwritten $5 million in medical care — major surgeries, chemotherapy, organ removals, medications and special physicians.

“The program has been a lifeline for me and so many others that ran to help without regard for personal safety,” Atkinson told Newsday. “All the heroes that day who continue to sacrifice so much deserve the support and required medical care."

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