The “Sequester” Is Here and It Is Cutting the Funding of the 9/11 Health and Compensation Programs, an Update

By Peg Seminario 9/11 Health Watch

In October, I wrote “What is “sequester” and why is it threatening to cut the funding of the 9/11 Health and Compensation Programs?” Well the “sequester” is now here and it is cutting both of the 9/11 programs.

My article from the fall described how the 9/11 Health and Compensation Programs came to be under the “sequester.” Now that it is here, I wanted to update you on what is happening and what steps are being taken to fix this.

When I last wrote, I told you about the letter that New York Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer, and U.S. Representatives Peter King, Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler sent to the Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) urging reconsidering of the interpretation that the 9/11 Health Programs should fall under sequestration. Regrettably, the OMB did not change their interpretation.

So Senators Gillibrand and Schumer and Representatives King, Maloney and Nadler have introduced bipartisan legislation, S. 377 /H.R. 811, the “Never Forget 9/11 Heroes Act,” which would add the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund (VCF) and the WTC Health Program to the list of programs exempt from the sequester, not only for this current cut, but also in the future under the PAYGO Act.

Although the specific amounts of the cuts facing both programs are difficult to project due to the way sequestration works, we have estimates. While the size of the cuts is slightly less than what we thought they would be in the fall, they are still disturbing. The VCF faces a $17 million cut for the current fiscal year 2013 for a projected total cut of $166 million over the next 4 years. Given that VCF Special Master Birnbaum has just started making awards and there is a great deal of concern that there will not be enough funds to adequately compensate those injured, every dollar of the cut may mean less compensation for 9/11 heroes.

The WTC Health Program is also facing a $10.1 million cut for the current fiscal year 2013 for a total estimated cut of $69 million over the next 4 years. At this time it is not clear what impact the cuts to the Health Program will have on patient care this year. But we know that the groups that received contracts to finally reach out to responders and survivors about available services were informed by NIOSH that they could be facing cuts. We also know that every dollar cut from the program means fewer funds in future years when the program will likely be spending more now that cancer is a covered condition.

At this time the bill to protect the 9/11 programs from cuts has 13 sponsors in the House of Representatives and 2 in the Senate. You can look here to see who is sponsoring the bill.

I would urge you to call your Member of Congress and ask them to join in sponsoring it.

Below are some bullet points on why the bill should be enacted:

  • The two programs created from the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act–the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and World Trade Center Health Program Fund–are not on the list of over 150 programs exempt from sequestration. Many similar health and compensation programs have been exempted such as: the Payment to Radiation Exposure Compensation Trust Fund, Radiation Exposure Compensation Trust Fund, Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Fund, Vaccine Injury Compensation, Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Trust Fund, and the Black Lung Disability Trust, among others.
  • The 9/11 programs were not exempted since the revised PAYGO statute was passed before the 9/11 bill was signed into law in January 2011.
  • The 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was fully paid for as one of the first major programs passed under the new and revised PAYGO requirement.
  • Not only was the 9/11 Health Act fully paid for, but also the bill as passed provided $433 million dollars more than the Act will spend. Those extra funds, the result of the compromise that got the bill passed, ended up going to deficit reduction.
  • Although the specific amounts of the cuts facing both of the 9/11 programs are difficult to project due to the way sequestration works, we can estimate the size of the cuts. The Victims Compensation Fund faces a $17 million cut for the current fiscal year 2013 for a projected total cut of $166 million over the next 4 years. The WTC Health Program is also facing a $ 10.1 Million cut for fiscal year 2013 for a total estimated cut of $69 million over the next 4 years.
  • These cuts to the new 9/11 Health and Compensation Programs come after Congress did not act for almost a decade to deal with the after-effects of the toxins at Ground Zero, and the government mislead its citizens as to the possible health effects at Ground Zero.
  • These cuts come as the programs are just getting started with Special Master Birnbaum, just now making the first determinations and awards for compensation, and NIOSH Director Dr. Howard making and implementing his decision to start treating cancers as 9/11 injuries.
  • These programs are facing cuts after years of battling to get them in place even though they are among the only programs in the government that are fully paid for–not only fully paid for, but also providing nearly a half a billion dollars in deficit reduction.
  • The 9/11 heroes and survivors are paying twice, once for 9/11 and their exposure to toxins that have made thousands ill, and again having to wait years to get action. They fought for and won a bill that was fully paid for, and provided millions in deficit reduction that now is going to get cut.
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