Congress shelves 9/11 health bill

September 29, 2008 3:45:26 AM PDT
Congress has shelved a $10.9 billion bill to provide health care for ground zero workers, partly due to opposition from New York City officials.Mayor Michael Bloomberg objected to a provision in the bill that would have required the city to pay 10 percent of the cost of a long-term program providing health care to those sick from working amid the toxic World Trade Center debris in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The total cost of the 10-year health program was to be $5.1 billion. The city's share was to be $500 million.

The bill also would have reopened the Sept. 11 victim compensation fund with an estimated $6 billion for those who became sick after working amid the debris.

New York City lawmakers had hoped to vote on the package over the weekend, but they ran out of time and support amid intense congressional negotiations over a $700 billion financial bailout package and the resistance from city officials.

Bloomberg spokesman Jason Post said the Sept. 11 health bill that was headed for a vote was "a step backward" from a bill introduced in July because "it put an undue burden on city taxpayers."

Under the proposed measure, which had been the subject of negotiations as late as Sunday afternoon, the city would have paid $500 million over the first 10 years and additional costs in the following years.

"That is nearly five times what the city now pays each year" for its Sept. 11 program, Post said.

Denis Hughes, president of the New York state AFL-CIO, blamed "shortsighted" thinking by City Hall.

"Part of it was the work on the bailout, but what really sunk this was the mayor's opposition," Hughes said. "I think they miscalculated."

He said he was "disappointed."

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-Manhattan, one of the authors of the original version of the bill, thanked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her work in recent days on the bill.

"I'm only sorry that the city did not agree that a $10.9 billion federal commitment to New York City to help those injured by the toxins at ground zero should have been passed," Maloney said in a statement.

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