WASHINGTON — For once, a fix to help 9/11 responders and victims is coming quickly and painlessly from Congress.
Tucked into a proposal to fund the government unveiled Monday is an agreement to expand the number of people who can be admitted to the rapidly filling treatment programs for ailing 9/11 responders and survivors.
The two programs were capped by the original law that created them at 25,000 each. In a letter send yo Congress earlier this month, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar warned that the responders' program had reached 20,000, or 80% of its capacity.
If it hit 25,000, no new responders who got sick in the future would be admitted.
House negotiators on the funding deal, though, added language to it that would boost the cap for each treatment program to 75,000 people.
"I’m pleased that we reached an agreement ensuring 9/11 responders and survivors will continue to be able to enroll in the 9/11 World Trade Center Health Program with no interruption and for years to come," said Rep. Frank Pallone, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Advocates who have grown used to shaming Congress into action hailed the speedy fix.
"Congress got together very quickly on this in a bipartisan fashion, and it shows their commitment to 9/11 responders and survivors," said Ben Chevat, the director of Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act.
"This enrollment expansion once again demonstrates our continuing commitment to responders and survivors," Pallone said. "We will never forget the sacrifices they have made in service to our nation."
The easy fix comes at least in part because it didn't require and new money. The treatment programs budget was set by law through 2025. If enrollment climbs too quickly, funding could become a problem, but it would take at least several years before there is a cash crunch.
The Senate needs to agree to the current deal, but sources told the News they have heard no objections, and don’t expect any, even if other parts of the funding package are altered.