Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin acknowledged in a letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio last week that his department has withheld $3.92 million since 2004 from the New York City Fire Department’s fund for 9/11 first responders.
The October 8 letter, sent to 30 New York officials including de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, said the funds had been withheld because of debts the city owes the federal government. The letter, obtained by CNN, says the city has been provided with a detailed accounting of the debts, though they are not listed in the letter.
“New York City firefighters are waiting on Secretary Mnuchin to act,” a spokesperson for de Blasio told CNN. “If the Trump administration supports first responders and the fearless men and women who keep Americans safe, then it’s time for them to prove it.”
Last month, Representative Peter King (R., N.Y.) wrote a letter to Mnuchin detailing how the Treasury Department had withheld roughly $1.5 million from the program in 2020 as of early September.
“It is essential that you release these funds immediately to the FDNY’s World Trade Center Clinic,” King wrote to Mnuchin then. “Our firefighters should not [be] punished for an administrative issue with New York City’s Department of Finance.”
In response to King’s letter, the Treasury Department on August 20 told the congressman that the money had been moved to fulfill debts the city had with the Department of Health and Human Services, according to The Hill.
FDNY Uniformed Firefighters Association President Andrew Ansbro said in a news conference Wednesday that while he may not be able to “blame” Mnuchin, as the issue has been ongoing for 17 years, he would “appreciate him fixing it, and fixing it to our satisfaction where the money is returned.”
“They can chase down New York City’s debt somewhere else, but on the backs of New York City firefighters who are suffering from 9/11-related illnesses, that’s not acceptable,” he said.
The FDNY World Trade Center Health Program offers free physical and mental health services to active and retired FDNY members who responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Mnuchin said that it is “unfair to burden FDNY with the delinquent debts of other NYC government entities,” but said the city is responsible to fix the funding gap and should directly reimburse the FDNY.
He added that should the city government not reimburse the $4 million, the Treasury Department could release funds to the FDNY program by offsetting the amount against future federal payments owed to the city.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D., N.Y.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.) wrote Mnuchin a letter on Tuesday demanding the funding be returned to the health program, according to CNN.
“When it comes to ensuring 9/11 frontline responders can get the medical treatment and monitoring they need, any delay that impacts such care is simply intolerable,” they wrote.