By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The bill to make the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund permanent passed in the Senate by a vote of 97 to 2 on Tuesday, following its passage by an overwhelming majority in the House earlier this month.
Following the bill’s passage in the House on July 12, lead sponsor Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to call for a vote in the Senate before the August recess during a press conference across from the World Trade Center memorial last Monday. During the event, Maloney donned an FDNY jacket gifted to her by the Fire Department, which she had pledged to wear at all events to raise awareness until this particular bill had passed.
“The true Twin Towers of New York are the FDNY and the NYPD, and fully funding and permanently authorizing the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund is the least we can do to honor their sacrifices,” Maloney said following the vote in the Senate. “I will not rest until the September 11th Victim Compensation Program is made permanent and we finally turn our promise to Never Forget into law. I hope the President signs this legislation quickly, so we can finally give these heroes the peace of mind they deserve.”
US Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Republican Cory Gardner, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and Republican Congressman Peter King, along with first responders, survivors, their families and Jon Stewart, who has been advocating for the legislation and testified on its benefits before Congress in June, stood with Maloney on Tuesday to announce the passage of the bipartisan bill in the Senate.
First responder Luis Alvarez also gave emotional testimony before Congress on June 11 alongside Stewart’s shortly before his death on June 29. The reauthorization bill was renamed the “Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund Act” in his honor after his death.
Since September 11, 2001, thousands of 9/11 first responders and survivors have become ill and have died from exposure to burning chemicals, pulverized drywall and powdered cement that was present at Ground Zero.
The compensation fund had announced on February 15 that due to a funding shortfall, first responders and survivors of 9/11 would be receiving cuts to the awards, with 50% of pending claims cut and 70% cuts to all future claims.
The Zadroga Act, which was originally passed in 2010 and provided health monitoring and financial aid to first responders and survivors, was reauthorized in 2015 to provide medical benefits until 2090 through the World Trade Center Health Program but the compensation fund was only extended until 2020 and the money was running out, as thousands more first responders and survivors are expected to be diagnosed with 9/11 cancers.
This legislation is designed to ensure that the VCF is funded and will remain open to anyone who becomes ill in the future. A veto-proof bipartisan majority of Congress cosponsored the legislation. The bill will now go to the president’s desk to be signed into law.
The bill authorizes $10.2 billion for the fund for the next 10 years and additional billions until 2090, essentially providing care for survivors for the rest of their lives.
“For too long we’ve waited to settle this matter; too many people have put up partisan roadblocks along the way,” Schumer said following the vote. “But now we are here, exiting a dark tunnel to guarantee—once and for all—that the heroes who rushed to the towers eighteen years ago will no longer have to worry about compensation for their families. These men and women, many of them sick, some of them gravely so, won’t have to return to Congress anymore to fight for the compensation that should always have been a given. They will be able to go home, attend to their illnesses, their family members, and their friends.”