Editorial – Zadroga 9/11 Health Benefits Must Not Be Held Hostage in Deficit Battle

Editorial Staten Island Advance

The heroes of September 11 should not be held hostage in the political battle on Capitol Hill over the U.S. deficit. Yet that is where the matter stands at the moment.

First responders and others sickened because of the attacks on the World Trade Center could lose nearly $40 million in health benefits unless all of the federal funding allocated to them is protected from budget cuts.

It’s a crisis that understandably raises personal concerns on Staten Island, where the tragedy of September 11 is so deeply felt by so many families.

To safeguard every bit of the federal money authorized for 9/11 health care, New York’s two senators – Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand – are calling for the survivors to be exempted from the deficit war.

We think this is only the fair and proper thing to do.

Under the sequestration of government funds due to take effect automatically on Jan. 2, 2013 – the “fiscal cliff” they keep talking about – federal agencies will be denied some of the money allocated to them.

About $1.5 trillion is at stake in the effort to cut back on U.S. spending. Half the cuts must be made in the defense budget and half from domestic programs.

The looming sequestration follows the inability of Congress to compromise on how to cut the national debt. In August 2011, the White House agreed with congressional Republicans to extend the debt ceiling only after mandating wide spending reductions. Sequestration of significant funding is to be automatic unless a bipartisan “super-committee” finds ways to reduce the deficit over 10 years through spending cuts, revenue increases, or some combination of the two.

Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand were among a group of politicians, first responders and survivors that went to Ground Zero this week to call for the full amount earmarked for September 11 health care to remain in place.

“Veterans have been exempted from sequestration and the heroes who rushed to the towers after 9/11 should be treated the same.” said Mr. Schumer. “They risked their lives in a time of war and suffered for it.”

Their advocates point to 150 other federal exemptions to the impact of sequestration, including at least six programs established for injuries and illnesses.

“Nothing exemplifies this unbalanced and draconian approach to deficit-reduction more than asking our heroes who have already sacrificed so much to sacrifice yet again,” Ms. Gillibrand said about the 9/11 funding.

We couldn’t agree more.

No portion of benefits approved under what’s known as the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act should be left vulnerable to automatic budget cuts.

The government must keep its promise to the heroes of 9/11 and their families. They have suffered enough.

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