Senate expected to approve financial lifeline for 9/11 responders
WASHINGTON – The firefighters, police officers and other emergency personnel who risked their lives answering the call on Sept.11, 2001, may finally be getting the rescue they’ve been demanding.
The Senate Tuesday is expected to pass a bill that would replenish a compensation fund set up shortly after the 2001 terror attacks in New York City and at the Pentagon to compensate first responders who suffered illnesses, injuries and other medical problems as a result of the attacks.
Seventy-three senators are sponsoring the measure.
Despite the broad support, the effort to essentially make the fund permanent has been the subject of a caustic political fight on Capitol Hill in recent weeks.
Former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart called the delay in passing a bill “shameful.” And Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has raised concerns about the cost, blasted the comedian as uninformed. September 11 survivors also have feuded with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for not moving fast enough.
‘Absolutely outrageous’: Jon Stewart slams Rand Paul for delaying 9/11 bill
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) has gotten so depleted that awards were cut in half earlier this year when it became unclear whether Congress would add any more money. That prompted Stewart, who has championed the cause of first responders, to criticize Congress for inaction.
Emergency personnel “responded in five seconds. They did their jobs — with courage, grace, tenacity, humility,” Stewart told a House committee hearing in June on the fund’s status. “Eighteen years later, do yours!”
By a 402-12 vote, the House passed the bill extending the fund earlier this month. It looked like it would sail through the Senate by a voice vote when Paul objected to it last week, forcing a delay that led to Tuesday’s floor vote.
“Not blocking the 9/11 bill,” the Kentucky senator tweeted, after his move prompted a firestorm of criticism. “Simply asking for a vote on an amendment to offset the cost.”
Paul and Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee are expected to offer separate amendments to the bill Tuesday that would limit how much federal taxpayers would be on the hook to cover compensation costs.
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More than 340 New York City firefighters died on Sept. 11, 2001, responding to the attacks. Since then, 200 more have died from illnesses contracted at Ground Zero, according to city officials.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that paying out the outstanding claims and future claims would cost $10.2 billion over the next decade – a price tag Paul says should not be added to the national debt without exploring other programs that could be cut to cover the cost.
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The latest iteration of the fund was initially allocated a maximum of about $7.4 billion. But in February 2019, the fund started to run out of money, having already exhausted $5 billion of its allocation. As a result, the fund had been forced to make cuts to its compensation to victims unless it is replenished.
Outstanding claims would be paid at 50% of their original value, according to the fund’s website, and any claims filed after February 2019 would be paid at 30% of their original claim value — changes potentially affecting thousands of people.
The VCF says that at the end of May, there were 16,715 eligibility claims still being processed. The average compensation amount was about $243,000, and the highest amount so far was a $4.1 million claim.
If the Senate passes the bill, the measure will go straight to President Donald Trump for his signature.