The Trump administration acknowledged Friday that it stripped millions of dollars from the city’s fire department fund that pays health care bills for 9/11 survivors and promised to try to put an end to the practice.
The administration’s about-face came after the Daily News reported Thursday that the Treasury Department has over the past four years siphoned nearly $4 million from the FDNY World Trade Center Health Program, which helps cover medical services for firefighters, EMTs and paramedics still suffering from 9/11-related illnesses.
The Treasury Department explained that it conducts offsets through the Treasury Offset Program, which matches the name and taxpayer identification number, or “TIN,” for outgoing payments against its debt records. If there is a match, an offset is applied as require by law.
Some payees—such as New York City—use a single TIN for many or their subdivisions, which can result in the payment for one subdivision being subject to offset for a debt owned by another.
However, Dr. David Prezant, the FDNY’s chief medical officer who oversees the 9/11 program, told The News earlier this week that he’s been asking the Treasury Department and the city for years about the quiet rerouting of cash and that no one has ever given him an answer.
The City Department of Finance did not immediately return a request for comment; however, an administration official said that Treasury adhered to its statutory obligations established by Congress regarding debts owed by New York, but that they are working with Congressman King and others to examine any potential authorities to provide relief in this case to support our nation’s 9/11 heroes.
Like Prezant, Republican Rep. Pete King of Long Island, cried foul on finger-pointing.
“The initial blame has to go to Treasury. Whoever decided to target the FDNY 9/11 firefighters health fund—it’s just absolutely disgraceful, totally indefensible, when you start with that,” said King, who’s retiring at the end of this year.
“Our and Congressman King’s only goal is to get FDNY its funding—we have done everything in our power to try and resolve this issue and are continuing to work with the city while also look into possible alternate ways of making this happen,” said an administration official.
The Treasury Department told King in a letter last month that it had taken about $1.9 million from the 9/11 fund between August 2016 and May 2020 to cover “delinquent Medicare Secondary Payer debt” owed by “various entities within New York City.”
The Aug. 20 letter, which King shared with The News, did not specify which entities held the debt, but said the City Department of Finance was “actively looking into the situation.”
Prezant said the Treasury Department’s $1.9 million figure was low.
Documents he provided to The News actually showed that the Treasury Department has docked about $3.7 million from the 9/11 fund since 2016.
The timing of the FDNY 9/11 fund revelations wasn’t missed on King, who attended Friday’s commemoration ceremony of the terror attacks at ground zero in downtown Manhattan.
“The 9/11 firefighters are still untarnished heroes, and to take them on, the heroes, the victims, and to just be quietly, silently, not even advising them that they’re losing their money, just taking it like thieves in the night,” King said, his voice trailing off.
Vice President Mike Pence also attended Friday’s Ground Zero ceremony, and King said he brought up the issue to him afterward.
“Pence definitely listened,” King said. “He knew it was important.”