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Health program for 9/11 first responders will stay put at agency, King says

President Donald Trump and Rep. Peter King during

President Donald Trump and Rep. Peter King during a visit to Long Island's Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage to discuss gang violence with local leaders, Wednesday May 23, 2018. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

A bipartisan effort by four members of New York’s congressional delegation has helped scuttle a Trump administration move to transfer a program handling critical health care issues for 9/11 first responders, according to Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford).

The lawmakers — King, Reps. Nita Lowey (D-Westchester), Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan) and Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) — had urged Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to withdraw a proposal to separate the World Trade Center Health Program, which provides free health care to 9/11 first responders, from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which administers it now. Mulvaney wanted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to oversee the program. 

Mulvaney’s proposal was doomed when the House Appropriations Committee released a report Tuesday that offered no changes to the World Trade Center Health Program, King said, adding that Lowey, as the committee's ranking member, led the campaign to defeat the proposal.

“This is a historic program,” King said in a telephone interview.

Along with crediting what he described as the "across-the-aisle coalition," King also mentioned the strong support of comedian Jon Stewart. The former "Daily Show" host traveled to Capitol Hill earlier this year to oppose Mulvaney's proposal.

Lowey, in a statement, pointed out that more than 83,000 first responders on 9/11 have made use of the program. As the committee's ranking member, she said she was "pleased to have played an instrumental role in keeping this vital program intact for those who have sacrificed greatly for our country."   

In the White House’s 2019 budget proposal, Mulvaney outlined a plan to shift oversight of the health program to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Office of Management and Budget said the move was part of a broader agency realignment and argued the change would not change funding levels or services.

King said sick firefighters, police officers, construction workers and others who responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks were concerned the program would be shifted to an agency that might not have the expertise or institutional knowledge to address their complex health problems. Some have said Mulvaney’s proposal was designed to weaken it.

King, Maloney and Nadler co-sponsored the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act legislation that created the health program. King said they placed the program with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health because the institute’s doctors and researchers were best able to address the illnesses of first responders to the attacks.

In a statement, Maloney said: "Director Mulvaney's misguided proposal would have put the health of 9/11 first responders and survivors at risk – and the Appropriations Committee clearly recognized that. I am glad that the committee heard this community’s concerns and acted to keep the World Trade Center Health Program working as is.”