On Sept. 11, the New York Daily News reported that the Trump administration had been somewhat secretly siphoning off millions from the Fire Department of New York’s (FDNY) World Trade Center Health Program. The money taken by the Trump administration—shorting payments to the fund here and there over the past three-plus years—is a cruel attack in an alleged battle between the administration and New York health officials over Medicare. That money is earmarked for the men and women who have suffered and continue to suffer from serious medical issues due to their first responder work on Sept. 11, 2001.
Remember that? Well, there’s an update. The New York Daily News reports that while “top officials in the Trump administration” admit that withholding $4 million from the New York Fire Department’s 9/11 treatment program was “unacceptable,” the officials aren’t doing anything to get that money back to those heroes, who they enjoy wrapping themselves in when they’re running for reelection.
The Trump administration’s position is that the money is a “debt” New York owes for some unrelated Medicare issue. No one has been able to find out exactly what this issue is. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, best known for being a world-renowned bag of overly expensive dung beetle refuse, has the power to make this issue go away with a wave of his hand. He’s been mum.
Seema Verma has been in charge of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) under Trump. She has not been able, along with Mnuchin, to figure out a way to get that money back to the 9/11 Fireman’s fund, although she has reportedly been able to steer another $5 million in taxpayer money toward her buddies and the communications consultants brought in to “burnish her image.”
On the one hand, Verma is a scapegoat at this point for the Trump administration, in no small part because she’s a woman of color and the optics are likely better for the white supremacists. But the fact of the matter is the entire Trump administration is corrupt, so virtually anyone can be easily scapegoated. Fish in a barrel. Corrupt, spoiled fish in a barrel.
Back on Oct. 3 when she was feeling some heat over the Daily News’ article, Verma tweeted: “@CMSGov has been made aware of recent reports regarding the unacceptable use of NYC’s 9/11 funds as a means to repay debt, and is taking swift action to correct this issue.” Once again, whether or not this “debt” is a real thing is a question. But either way, all that the Trump administration seems to be able to do, as Mnuchin sits on hundreds of billions of dollars to buy off big businesses, is blame New York for the Trump administration’s craven attack on our country’s first responders.
A spokesperson for Verma and CMS was not able to say whether or not the agency had taken that immediate action. A spokesperson for the Treasury Department did not answer a request for comment.
FDNY officials have been fighting since the Trump administration came into office to stop this siphoning of funds. According to the Daily News, “21 jobs dealing with medical care and support for ill paramedics and firefighters remain unfilled while the program goes without its money.”