Bush's Budget Proposes Adding 9/11 Health Funds

Updated: 01-31-2007 12:00:50 PM

Associated Press WorldStream
via NewsEdge Corporation

WASHINGTON_The Bush administration plans to keep funding health programs for sick ground zero workers, enough to keep the effort alive at least through 2007, the White House said Tuesday.

The administration next week will propose spending at least $25 million (19.3 million) more to fund a Sept. 11-related health care program at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan and a related effort for New York firefighters.

White House officials said they would consider providing more money, depending on the findings of a separate government task force that is examining Sept. 11-related health issues.

"We consider this a good starting point," said White House budget spokesman Sean Kevelighan.

Republican Rep. Vito Fossella called the news "a breakthrough" after years of seeking more help from the government.

"For the first time in the federal budget there will be a down payment to provide for funding for continued treatment and monitoring for Sept. 11 responders who need our help," Fossella said.

Word of the new money came a day before President George W. Bush was to speak in New York about the economy, and sick Sept. 11 workers planned a rally timed to the visit. It was also a week before Bush offers his budget proposal to Congress.

The issue gained new attention just last week when a former New York City police officer died of lung problems, more than five years after he worked at ground zero.

Cesar Borja, 52, died awaiting a lung transplant. His son, Ceasar Borja Jr., 21, was tentatively scheduled to meet with the president in New York on Wednesday to discuss Sept. 11 health issues, but no specific time was given.

The son, a college student, attended Bush's annual State of the Union address to Congress last week - hours after his father's death - to call attention to the issue.

Borja came as the personal guest of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said Tuesday she was pleased "the president has agreed to meet with Ceasar Borja Jr. tomorrow and to hear his family's case for funding vitally needed to keep our treatment programs open. ... We cannot allow these critical health care services to dry up."

The $25 million (19.27 million) figure would probably change after the administration gets more details from the hospital and New York City about their patients, and Fossella said the goal was not to hit a specific dollar target but to continue treating those patients.

The government delivered $75 million (57.82 million) for the programs last year, but health advocates had warned that money was due to run out by the summer.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat whose district includes ground zero, said the $25 million (19.27 million) was a "first step forward" in getting the government to respond to the health needs but argued the dollar figure was grossly inadequate.

Under the new White House proposal, those programs would remain funded through the end of the year - and their inclusion in the president's budget suggests it may be easier to continue funding through future years.

The death last week of Officer Borja is one of several fatalities that have generated increasing public pressure for the government to do more for those who are still sick years after working on the toxic debris pile at the World Trade Center site.

Clinton has called for a $1.9 billion (1.46 billion) federal effort to provide years of treatment to those sick workers.

Mount Sinai, which has screened some 19,000 such workers, released a report last year finding nearly seven out of every 10 ground zero responders suffered lung problems.

One of the doctors who authored that study, Dr. Robin Herbert, has said thousands will likely need long-term health care.

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