WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate voted Thursday to restore $125 million of Sept. 11 aid that was caught in a months-long tug of war between budget-cutters and advocates for sick ground zero workers.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the deal on the Senate floor, offering an amendment with Sen. Charles Schumer to restore the unspent workers’ compensation money, and the measure was quickly approved on a voice vote.

“This is a righting of an inadvertent wrong,” said Clinton, D-N.Y. “We have a number of our colleagues who understand completely the need for these funds to be reinstated.”

The workers’ comp funding still must clear a final step: negotiations between budget leaders in the Senate and the House, who will forge a compromise between versions of a larger spending bill.

Proponents consider its chances good. Rep. Vito Fossella, R-Staten Island, crafted a compromise in June that left open the possibility for the Senate to restore the money.

White House budget officials and House leaders had sought to take back the unspent money under a budget proposed earlier this year, arguing New York had not spent it in four years and apparently had no plans to do so.

When Congress moved earlier this year to take back the $125 million, New York officials complained that thousands of ground zero workers were still suffering physical and mental problems from their time on the toxic debris pile. More health problems could develop over time and the state will eventually need the money, the officials said.

Schumer said the restoration of the money erased “the only mark where there has been a waiver in the commitment made to New York.”

New York State Workers Compensation Board spokesman Jon Sullivan welcomed the news, saying $50 million would be used for injury claims from ground zero volunteers.

But it is still unclear exactly how the state would spend the rest of the money, given that some $75 million comes with specific limitations.

The unspent $125 million was part of a $20 billion aid package Congress gave to New York after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Congress originally gave $175 million of the money to New York state for the expected costs of settling workers’ compensation claims for those injured at ground zero.

Of that sum, $125 million was earmarked to help pay administrative costs of handling claims from construction and recovery workers and volunteers.

AP-ES-10-27-05 1633EDT


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