House Speaker backs extending benefits for Sept 11 responders

Newly-elected U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) holds his first news conference at Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington November 3, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said on Thursday he supports extending expiring benefits programs for police and firefighters injured or sickened by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

He did not say whether he backs a permanent extension of health and compensation programs authorized under legislation known as the Zadroga Act.

Nearly 3,000 people died when hijackers crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field more than 14 years ago. Tens of thousands of firefighters, police officers and construction workers worked for months to clean up after the attacks.

To help them cope with illnesses tied to that work, Congress passed the Zadroga bill. Part of that legislation, the World Trade Center Health Program providing care to more than 70,000 of those responders, expired on Oct. 1. A Victims Compensation Fund expires next year.

When asked if he backed a permanent reauthorization, Ryan told a weekly news conference he favored reauthorizing it. He said he had asked leaders of relevant congressional committees to work with Republican Representative Peter King of New York to come up with a way forward.

"I think we should get this done by the end of the year," he said.

To date, 33,000 people have developed illnesses related to the Sept. 11 attacks.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)