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Expiring Zadroga health program has funds for another year, backers say

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney speaks during a news

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney speaks during a news conference in Manhattan on Monday, Sept. 14, 2015, about the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Credit: Charles Eckert

WASHINGTON -- Congressional authorization for the health program of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act expires at midnight Wednesday night -- but its backers said the program has enough money available to last another year and they expect federal lawmakers to extend it this fall.

In recent weeks, sponsors and advocates aggressively have lobbied Congress to pass a permanent extension of the act, stressing the harm to ailing 9/11 first responders if lawmakers don't approve the measure. Supporters even brought comedian Jon Stewart to Washington to draw attention to their cause.

But the extension's key sponsors, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), as well as activists working for that renewal, acknowledged that the program itself will not actually end this week.

"The [program] expires in less than 48 hours, but we still have enough money to make it to October of next year," Zadroga Act advocate John Feal said Tuesday.

"I'm confident that the bill extending it will pass this year," said Feal, who said that measure has 56 co-sponsors in the Senate and 179 in the House.

The health program provides health care for 33,000 people and monitors another 40,000 affected by the 9/11 attacks.

Congress placed a five-year expiration date on what's known as the World Trade Center Health Program when it passed the Zadroga Act in 2011. The act also created a compensation program for those affected by 9/11 that expires on Oct. 1, 2016.

The health program's federal funding was $235.7 million in 2014 and $243.4 million in 2015.

In its 2016 budget request, the Obama administration included $267.7 million for the program. But Congress hasn't funded the government for 2016 yet.

On Friday, after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he was quitting Congress on Oct. 31, Gillibrand said she was concerned about how his departure might affect the bill.

Ben Chevat, a former Maloney aide who set up a group to lobby for the Zadroga Act, said he expects "turmoil" in the House over the next few weeks, but he predicted there will be support for an extension this year.

Backers say they plan to pass a bill in the Senate and then attach it to other legislation in the House to get it passed.

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