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OpinionEditorial

Feds must return funds to 9/11 program

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrives for a meeting

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrives for a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., at the Speaker's office on Capitol Hill on Sept. 30, 2020. Mnuchin should work to find a way to make sure money for first responders is returned to the WTC health program. Credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta

How many times do we have to write about the need to take care of our 9/11 first responders?

How many times do we have to fight for funding for the health care of those who ran into danger after the World Trade Center terrorist attacks, and then spent months breathing in toxic dust at Ground Zero?

Just when we thought these battles were over, here we are again. The federal government has taken nearly $4 million from the New York Fire Department's WTC health program because of a bureaucratic mess-up that began a stunning 16 years ago. Everyone knows the funds shouldn't have been taken from the health program. But for some reason, officials have been unable to clean up the situation and restore the funds.

We are here because multiple New York City agencies use the same taxpayer identification number and because another part of city government owes the federal government money. Somehow, though, the Treasury Department clawed back the funds by taking money from a program that helps 9/11 first responders.

There's some finger-pointing going on, too, as the Treasury Department notes that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is responsible for some of the offsets. But it shouldn't matter. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin should take the lead and find a way to make sure the money is returned to the program today. Instead, federal officials have worked out a way not to charge the program further. That's nice — but it doesn't go far enough.

This can't wait until the FDNY program runs out of money. Mnuchin should coordinate with CMS and find a way to fully reimburse the FDNY health program — now.

— The editorial board

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