New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked Congress on Wednesday to reopen a compensation fund to cover more Sept. 11 terrorism attack victims, saying the city could otherwise lose billions of dollars to lawsuits.

The $7 billion September 11th Victim Compensation Fund was created by Congress shortly after the attacks and quickly became the subject of intense debate among victims' family members and politicians for the rules by which it distributed money.

Bloomberg on Wednesday appeared before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where Democrats have pledged to do more for sick ground zero workers than the Republican-controlled Congress did.

"It's imperative that Congress reopens the fund to take care of those who were not eligible to benefit from it before it closed in December 2003," Bloomberg said in a statement prepared for the committee.

"The mere fact that their injuries and illnesses have been slower to emerge should not disqualify them from getting the help they need."

Health experts and advocates have warned that thousands of fire, police, recovery and construction personnel may suffer lifelong illnesses from their exposure to toxic dust at the World Trade Center site.

The fund paid out an average award of $2.1 million to the families of those killed, with the 2,880 individual payouts ranging from $250,000 to $7.1 million. It also paid an average of $400,000 for 2,680 claims of injuries stemming from the attacks, including those to rescue workers.

Bloomberg also endorsed proposed legislation offered by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., that would spend $1.9 billion to provide health care treatment for five years. The mayor said the cost of treating those who are sick or could become sick from exposure to World Trade Center debris is $393 million a year.