With the internet abuzz and television talking heads dissecting the 2018 government shutdown, 9/11 victims are left wondering what impact it will have on the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (“9/11 VCF”) and the WTC Health Program.
The short answer: Thanks to the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act, the 9/11 VCF and WTC Health Program cannot be discontinued or “shut down.” The Zadroga Reauthorization Act appropriated $4.6 billion for fiscal year 2017 to remain available until expended (in addition to the original $2.7 billion funding). The Zadroga Reauthorization Act also extended the WTC Health Program through 2090. While the government shutdown impacts federal programs that rely on fiscal year 2018 appropriations, funding for the VCF and WTC Health Program has already been allocated in previous fiscal years.
However, while funding for the 9/11 VCF and WTC Health Program is protected by prior allocations, 9/11 victims may experience a slowdown in claims and benefits. Neither program has issued guidance regarding the government shutdown.
The 9/11 VCF is administered by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), which relies on annual allocations for operational expenses. The DOJ has a staff of 114,000 people; 19,500 will be furloughed during the shutdown. It is unclear whether any 9/11 VCF staff will be furloughed.
The Treasury Department is responsible for processing award payments to 9/11 VCF claimants. Like the DOJ, the Treasury Department also relies on annual allocations. The Treasury Department has a staff of 88,000 people; 48,500 will be furloughed during the shutdown. Again, it is unclear if less Treasury Department employees means less, or slower, 9/11 VCF payments. In sum, only time will tell whether the government shutdown causes a 9/11 VCF slowdown, but claimants can rest assured that the $4.6 billion allocation is protected.
The WTC Health Program is administered by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (“NIOSH”), a U.S. federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for prevention of work related injury and illness. NIOSH is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), within the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”). Like the DOJ and Treasury Department, HHS relies on annual allocations for operational expenses. HHS has a staff of 81,900; 41,000 will be furloughed during the shutdown. It is unclear whether any of the furloughed staff members are responsible for administering the WTC Health Program. So, while the WTC Health Program is protected through 2090, only time will tell whether members will experience a slowdown.
Given recent delays in scheduling initial evaluations, the last thing WTC Health Program applicants need is a slowdown. The WTC Health Program recently commented on this issue:
Beginning in mid-2016, the WTC Health Program began to notice an increased number of individuals seeking enrollment in the Program as screening-eligible survivors, and requesting certification of their health conditions as WTC-related. This increased interest in the Program may be due to ongoing outreach efforts by the Program and others, along with the VCF’s new requirement that VCF claimants seek membership in the WTC Health Program, and certification of their health conditions by the Program, to facilitate VCF compensation…The WTC Health Program is aware of the increased number of individuals, primarily survivors, seeking enrollment and/or certification of their health conditions. The WTC Health Program is taking active steps to address the waiting time for an initial health evaluation for enrolled screening-eligible survivors.
We are looking at options to expand our capacity to provide initial health evaluations and health condition(s) certification to new WTC Health Program members. These options may include increasing the capacity at clinics affiliated with the Program and located in Manhattan.
UPDATE [January 22, 2018 12:18 P.M]: The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (9/11 VC) released guidance regarding the government shutdown. The good news is the 9/11 VCF is continuing to process claims. The bad news is Claimants expecting a payment will experience delays.
During the Federal Government shutdown, the VCF will remain open and our Helpline will continue to take calls. We will continue to review and process claims and will work to minimize any impact on claimants and VCF operations. Claimants whose claims are in the payment process should expect delays in the processing of their VCF payment.