The House of Representatives voted by a large margin on July 12 to put billions of dollars into a waning compensation fund for 9/11 workers. The legislation honored a former New York City police detective who had urged Congress to aid those sick or dying after working in toxic debris locations.
The House voted 402 to 12 in support of the legislation, which was modified a few days earlier to honor Luis Alvarez. As reported by The Bend Bulletin, Alvarez, a New York Police Department first responder, told lawmakers on June 11: “You all said you would never forget. Well, I’m here to make sure that you don’t.”
He died just a few weeks later.
Backed by all House Democrats and nearly all Republicans, the legislation now moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he aims to hold a vote by August. This commitment stemmed from Jon Stewart’s public attack on McConnell. Stewart, the previous host of “The Daily Show,” attacked lawmakers for being hesitant to add to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
Stewart has become the celebrity support for the struggle to make the 9/11 fund permanent. He was in Congress July 12 for the vote. He called it the “semifinals” and promised to return for the Senate vote, which could happen in two weeks.
“This is necessary, it is urgent, and it is morally right,” Stewart said, among a throng of first responders and lawmakers.
In a statement, McConnell said the Senate “has never forgotten the Victim Compensation Fund and we aren’t about to start now. We will consider this important legislation soon.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., instigated a quick Senate vote. “We need to let these men and women get back to their lives and families. We need to show with our actions — not just our words — that we will never forget what these heroes did for our nation. We owe them nothing less.”
The fund provides money to people who have contracted diseases tied with exposure to toxic debris after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The fund was brought to fruition by lawmakers in 2011 to recompense deaths and illnesses brought about by toxic exposure at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, in the aftermath of terrorists crashing four hijacked airliners that day in 2001. The $7.3 billion fund has provided about $5 billion to approximately 21,000 claimants. Almost 700 were for deaths that occurred long after the attacks.
The fund is running low on money. It has over 19,000 additional unpaid claims. Rupa Bhattacharyya, who is the special master that is supervising the funds, declared that pending claims, including those that were received before Feb. 1, will be paid at 50% of their prior value. Following claims are being paid at just 30%.
According to the law, the fund is planned to stop accepting claims in December 2020. The new legislation would prolong the program for seven decades, with the cost being approximately $10.2 billion for the first decade.
An intense congressional hearing last month grabbed the public’s focus, drawing them to the demise of the sick workers and the waning fund.
Alvarez had persevered through 68 rounds of chemotherapy when he testified to lawmakers. He had been preparing for another round. His words brought many in the hearing to tears.
His testimony was followed by a fuming denunciation of Congress by Stewart, who disparaged what he called Congress’ lack of inaction on such an important issue.
“It’s shameful. It’s an embarrassment to the country,” Stewart said, pushing back tears.
Read the The Bend Bulletin’s story here.
Watch an interview by MSNBC with Jon Stewart and 9/11 first responder John Feal here.