• The Treasury Department is accused of withholding nearly $4 million in funding from the World Trade Center Health Program
  • The program was set up in 2010 after the Zadroga Bill was passed and signed into law by then-President Barack Obama
  • U.S. Rep. Pete King said he plans to speak to Vice President Mike Pence about the withheld funding during an anniversary event in New York City

The U.S. Treasury Department withheld roughly $4 million in funds from the FDNY World Trade Center Health Program meant to cover the medical bills for emergency responders suffering from ailments caused by working on Ground Zero, according to a New York Daily News exclusive published on 9/11.

Dr. David Prezant, the program’s director and FDNY chief medical officer, told the Daily News that the shortages began in 2016, when the Treasury withheld around $500,000 from the program. He said it continued as the Treasury withheld another $500,000 in 2017, which increased to $630,000 in 2018 and 2019. Prezant also said 2020 has been the worst year yet as around $1.447 million has been withheld as of August.

“This was just disappearing,” Prezant said. “This is the most amazing thing. This was disappearing — without any notification.”

“Here we have sick World Trade Center-exposed firefighters and EMS workers, at a time when the city is having difficult financial circumstances due to covid-19, and we’re not getting the money we need to be able to treat these heroes.”

“And for years, they wouldn’t even tell us — we never ever received a letter telling us this.”

The Daily News said it acquired documents proving the funds were withheld, but as of Friday, had not shared them publicly.

The program was established by the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, more commonly referred to as the Zadroga bill, when it passed in 2010. Its namesake, James Zadroga, was a New York City police officer who died in 2006 from respiratory disease caused by his time working at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The act expired in 2015, but was reauthorized and extended for 75 years after intense lobbying by the FDNY, comedian Jon Stewart, and a swell of public support. However, the FDNY’s first responders were forced to appear on Capitol Hill again in 2019 after more than half of existing and new claims were cut due to insufficient “funding to pay all pending and projected claims.”

That led to the now famous clip of Stewart appearing before House Judiciary Committee in June 2019 and giving an emotional speech before the few members present.

“There is not a person here, there is not an empty chair on that stage that didn't tweet out 'Never Forget the heroes of 9/11. Never forget their bravery. Never forget what they did, what they gave to this country,'” Stewart said. “Well, here they are. And where are they? And it would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy were benign, but it's not.

"Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: time. It's the one thing they're running out of," he continued.

The committee approved additional funds the next day and the program was permanently reauthorized.

Prezant said he did receive some congressional help in the form of U.S. Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., who looked into withheld funds. King told Prezant another New York City agency was at odds with the Treasury over Medicare bills and the program was now paying the proverbial price.

“If anyone were true American heroes, it was the cops and firemen on 9/11, especially the firemen, and for even $1 to be being held back is absolutely indefensible,” King told the Daily News.

King said he tried to contact Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin multiple times over the summer, but got no response. He said he would try to speak Friday with Vice President Mike Pence, who will be in attendance for an event planned on the 19th anniversary of the attacks.

“I’m not sure quite what to make of this other than it’s despicable,” Uniformed Fire Officers Association President Jake Lemonda told the Daily News. Lemonda is among many notable members of the FDNY who lobbied Congress to provide medical coverage to first responders.

“We’ve fought very hard for many years for these funds to provide proper medical treatment for our sick and injured. The withholding of these funds without a legitimate explanation is inexcusable.”

Neither the White House nor the Treasury released statements about the funds in response to the Daily News report.

A view through a broken office window shows the wreckage of the World Trade Center in New York, Sept. 25, 2001. Getty Images/ Eric Feferberg