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OpinionColumnistsRandi F. Marshall

Pete King's search for FDNY health program funding

U.S. Rep. Pete King, center, attends a ceremony

U.S. Rep. Pete King, center, attends a ceremony held by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio honoring advocates of 9/11 health funding at the Beacon Theatre on Dec. 16, 2019. Credit: Charles Eckert

Weeks after it came to light that the New York Fire Department’s World Trade Center health program was missing nearly $4 million, local elected officials still are trying to get the money back.

And Rep. Pete King is connecting with a name inextricably linked to the city’s response to 9/11 in an attempt to fix the situation.

King’s White House connection on the issue is Andrew Giuliani – son to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani – who works in the Office of Public Liaison.

"He’s been very effective and very enthused," King told The Point of the mayor’s son, perhaps best known as a young boy repeating his father’s oath during the mayor’s inauguration, and later for suing Duke University after he was cut from the school’s golf team.

But the situation involving the money is complicated, and already includes some finger pointing and pushback from federal officials.

The funds were withheld by the U.S. Treasury Department starting in 2004, and have been slowly draining since then, as the federal government tried to offset funds it was owed by other New York City agencies. But since the initial reporting on the missing funds, the issue has become even more muddled — embroiling not only Treasury, but also the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which began its own offsets in 2016 to get city debts paid back.

None of the money New York City owes has anything to do with the FDNY’s health program for 9/11 first responders. And yet, because various city agencies use the same taxpayer identification number, the 9/11 program — and the first responders it’s trying to help — have been caught in the mess.

Treasury officials indicated last week in a letter to King that they found a way to stop future offsets, but say "any additional accommodations" is up to CMS.

And so, King wrote to CMS Administrator Seema Verna last week. "To simply say there is no legal mechanism to reimburse the money to care for these heroes ignores their sacrifice," King wrote.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and fellow Senator Kirsten Gillibrand wrote to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin late last week, noting that if the department is able to stop future withdrawals, it should be able to do more.

"It is logical to conclude that you also have the discretion to release the funds that you previously withheld," the letter said. "Yet, you continue to hold the nearly $4 million at issue."

It appears that the WTC Health Program has been able to maintain services with the funds it has. But as more and more first responders need health care, the program is at risk, officials said.

For King, the excuses and explanations aren’t enough.

"Nobody wants to hear why it can’t be done," he told The Point. "You’ve got to get it done… To think you may have some deadly cancer inside of you and now you can’t get tested or treated is terrifying. They’ve gone through enough."

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