NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – If Congress fails to reach a budget deal, automatic across the board cuts in January would slash $38 million from the Zadroga Act, which helps care for sick 9/11 responders.

WCBS 880’s Jim Smtih On The Story

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“I’m here to draw my foot in the sand – a line saying ‘We’re not going to take it,'” said John Feal in Lower Manhattan on Monday.

Feal is one of the most prominent representatives of and activists for the men and women who helped out during America’s darkest hour, but are now ill as a result.

“It’s a shame that the men and women who risked their lives 11 years ago without prejudice have to continue to suffer because leadership continues to try to hurt them,” Feal, the namesake of the FealGood Foundation said. “It’s unacceptable.”

He joined many members of New York’s Congressional delegation in calling for the 9/11 funds to be exempt from the budget cuts that will result if Congress can’t get its ducks in a row.

“These programs have life and death consequences,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said. “Cuts would be insulting.”

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“This is outrageous,” she added.

Sen. Charles Schumer said the Office of Management and Budget already has dozens of exemptions, including most programs for veterans.

“Treat our 9/11 heroes like our veterans and exempt them,” Schumer said.

“They should be treated like the heroes and heroines and veterans of the war against terror that they are,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney said.

Joe Zadroga, whose late son is the namesake of the law, said responders are prepared to fight in the nation’s capital.

“Even if it comes down that we have to go chain ourselves to a fence down there,” he said.

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“It’s the compensation part of the bill that’s going to be hit the hardest,” Feal added. “Taking money from these men and women who have waited for years for this bill to be passed is just cruel and unusual punishment.”