WASHINGTON – New York has yet to spend $125 million for workers injured in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and their aftermath. Tired of waiting, the federal government wants the money back.
New York lawmakers are trying to hold on to the funds ahead of a House committee meeting next week to consider reclaiming the money as the Bush administration has proposed for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.
Twenty-one lawmakers from the state, including Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search) and Charles Schumer (search), want the White House to redirect the money toward health programs for ground zero workers affected with long-term lung problems that might not appear for years.
So far, the administration has resisted.
The federal government agreed to give more than $20 billion to help New York recover from the attacks. That money included $175 million for the state's workers compensation program. But as the claims were processed, the bulk of the money was not spent.
A report last year by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found that the state spent $44 million to pay out money quickly through other state agencies.
An additional $4.4 million paid to upgrade the compensation board's computer system to prepare for a possible disaster in the future.
That left about $125 million because the board has not paid out huge sums for Sept. 11-related claims. In the case of $25 million set aside for rescue workers who came to New York from out of town, the board had paid $456,000 by mid-2004.
Scott Milburn, spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget, said New York has used only $49 million of the $175 million and spent just $6 million in last budget year.
"The needs were not as large as initially feared," Milburn said.
Rep. James Walsh said the government is moving too fast to retrieve the money.
"We don't know yet what the need is," said Walsh, R-N.Y. "What we do know is that there was a witches' brew of toxic substances emanating from that debris and those firefighters, police officers and construction workers were breathing that for days."
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said "too many people in Washington still don't realize that thousands of injured 9/11 responders still desperately need our help."
The state received some 10,182 claims for workers comp, but did not tell investigators how many claims were denied, saying it did not keep such figures.