Will a chance encounter during the 9/11 commemoration ceremonies help restore nearly $4 million in missing funds from the FDNY’s World Trade Center health program – money that goes toward providing care for firefighters stricken with 9/11-related illnesses?
Rep. Pete King hopes so.
King saw Vice President Mike Pence for a brief moment during the Tunnel to Towers Foundation’s 9/11 ceremony Friday morning – but wasn’t really able to connect with the vice president there.
But moments later, King headed to the firehouse of Engine 10 and Ladder 10 right near the World Trade Center memorial site — and ran into Pence again. There, the two had a few moments to talk – and King was able to mention the missing funds. Perhaps even more importantly, King was able to connect with Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, who had seen the story about the funds first reported in the New York Daily News, and the two were able to have a longer conversation about the issue.
The situation began in 2016, when the U.S. Treasury Department, with no notification or explanation, began withholding payments – reimbursements to the FDNY for a program that specifically provides medical services to firefighters who’ve been sickened in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. When King began to inquire about the situation during the spring, he learned that the problem stemmed from some other unrelated discrepancy involving another New York City agency, which supposedly owed the federal government money involving Medicare costs.
To get its money back, the Treasury Department apparently turned to the FDNY’s program, and cut there.
King told The Point he thinks this was a bureaucratic error, not an effort specifically directed to hurt New York.
“Even if you want to target New York, I don’t think you’d target the FDNY health program,” King said. “If they want to play with New York, don’t pick on the most vulnerable of all … It’s almost like a bad movie. What’s worse than cutting money to keep firefighters from dying who worked on 9/11?”
And according to Rep. Lee Zeldin, who said he’s also working on finding a fix to the situation, there is indeed a bureaucratic explanation — however ridiculous it might sound. New York City uses the same taxpayer identification number for multiple agencies and subdivisions when it comes to offsetting debts with payments via the Treasury Department’s offset program. So, as federal officials looked to offset a debt from one agency, they used the same identification number — but that ended up removing funds from the FDNY health program, Zeldin said.
“It’s something that has to be instantly fixed,” Zeldin told The Point.
King said his staff is now working to get Pence’s office details on the situation.
“What I’m hoping happens – and what should happen — is that [Treasury Secretary Steve] Mnuchin takes care of it right away,” King said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, plans to speak to Mnuchin this weekend about the issue. And a Trump administration source said the Treasury Department is now “working with King and others to ... provide relief in this case to support our nation’s 9/11 heroes.”
“This is unacceptable to us,” the source said. “We are trying everything we can to try and find a fix.”