Bush to continue fund for ill ground zero workers

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration plans to continue funding health programs for sick ground zero workers, enough to keep the effort alive at least through 2007, the White House said yesterday.

The administration next week will propose spending at least $25 million more to fund a Sept. 11-related health-care program at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan and a related effort for New York firefighters.

White House officials said they would consider giving more money, depending on the findings of a government task force that is examining Sept. 11-related health issues.

"We consider this a good starting point," White House budget spokesman Sean Kevelighan said.

Rep. Vito Fossella (R., N.Y.) called the news "a breakthrough" after years of seeking more help from the government.

"For the first time in the federal budget there will be a down payment to provide for funding for continued treatment and monitoring for Sept. 11 responders who need our help," Fossella said.

Word of the new money came a day before the president was to speak in New York about the economy, and sick Sept. 11 workers planned a rally timed to the visit. It was also a week before Bush offers his budget proposal to Congress.

The issue gained new attention just last week when a former New York City police officer died of lung problems, more than five years after he worked at ground zero.

Cesar Borja, 52, died awaiting a lung transplant. His son, Ceasar Borja Jr., 21, was tentatively scheduled to meet with the president in New York today to discuss Sept. 11 health issues, but no specific time was given.