Budget Bill Rescues 9/11 Responder Fund
WASHINGTON -- The new budget passed by Congress Thursday fixes a legislative gaffe that could have killed a new program that helps ailing 9/11 responders.
The problem was that the new James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act -- passed in a bitter fight last December -- included no way to pay for administration of the compensation fund, a cost likely to run to tens of millions of dollars.
That's because the measure was modeled on the old 9/11 Victims' Compensation Fund law that helped people in the years right after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
That fund amounted to a blank check, and Congress mandated that its administrative costs be paid separately out of the discretionary budget. It ended up costing $87 million to run, and gave out $7 billion.
The same language was carried over in the new law -- but separate administrative funding would have been nearly impossible to secure in this year's tough, budget-cutting environment.
Democrats feared they were facing a new, tough fight, and that Republicans might cry foul.
But Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), told The Huffington Post that Commerce, Justice and Science subcommittee Chairman Rep. Frank Wolfe (R-Va.) -- who represents victims of the Pentagon attack -- didn't object.
"There were some folks who didn't know how this was going to turn out," said Serrano, a subcommittee member.
"We went through so much to pass this, but once I presented it to Frank Wolf, he understood that everything we did [in passing the law], could not happen," Serrano said.
All it took was fixing a couple inscrutable paragraphs on page 216 of the spending measure that essentially order the money to come from the new fund.
The $4.3 billion Zadroga law includes $2.8 billion for compensation, and another $1.5 billion for a separate treatment program.
The budget bill also helped the current 9/11 treatment program by ensuring that Congress didn't repossess the remaining cash the fund has to keep running before the Zadroga law is put into effect this summer.
"It's important for this to be there," said Serrano.