Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

W. Plan to Stiff Heroes
By Sam Smith, New York Post, May 8, 2005

The Bush administration is reneging on its pledge of $175 million to fund workers' compensation claims for uninsured Ground Zero responders, The Post has learned.

In its proposed 2006 budget, the administration says it will take back $120 million in funds granted in 2002 that have yet to be spent.

"These particular funds were set aside for workers' compensation needs that have not turned out to be as large as expected," said federal Office of Management and Budget spokesman Scott Milburn. "The initial need for the funds has been met."

But advocates say the federal decision will leave workers in the lurch as they continue to get sick from their time at Ground Zero, and that the money may well be needed to pay future claims.

"I'm disgusted," said Joseph Pecuro, 38, of Toms River, N.J., a Ground Zero volunteer who filed for workers' compensation last August and is worried that the Bush administration's proposal will leave him without benefits.

"I can't even believe they would actually do that. They should be ashamed," he said.

Pecuro, an ironworker, says his ailments forced him to quit working two years ago. "I can't afford to buy my groceries," he said.

Health professionals were concerned about the government's decision.

"We don't know what the long-term health effects will be," said Dr. Robin Herbert, director of Mount Sinai hospital's World Trade Center health-monitoring program.

So far, the New York Workers' Compensation Board has paid out roughly $52 million in benefits to 113 claimants from the federal funding. Of those, 37 are receiving biweekly payments because of the severity of their injuries.

All those payments along with 94 claims currently being processed, another 400 filed with the state in anticipation of future health problems, and any future complaints are jeopardized by the Bush administration's proposal.

Copyright 2005 NYP Holdings, Inc

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