Senate has passed the bill for the September 11 Victims’ Compensation Fund (9/11 VCF) with an overwhelming 97-2 vote. The passage of this bill ensures funds for 9/11 survivors and heroes until 2092.
First-responders and survivors present for the vote exploded in cheers at the visitor’s gallery as soon that it was announced.
Before the Senate’s vote, two amendments to the legislation was proposed. One was to restrict the bill until 2030, and another change was to require offsets for the funds released.
Moments after the legislation was passed, Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand recognized the heroism of the 9/11 responders and survivors.
“We have lost so many of our heroes, and sadly, more will continue to get sick, and more will die,” Senator Gillibrand said.
Senator Schumer acknowledge the sacrifices that the lobbyists did for the bill to pass. He emphasized that each of the people who testified would’ve rather stayed home with their families and care for their fellow survivors. “Now, they can go back and do what they really wanted to do. They don’t like being here,” Senator Schumer happily announced.
Last July 12, the House of Representatives has backed the bill with a vote of 402-12. Nineteen lawmakers abstained from the vote, and eleven Republicans and one Independent vetoed the bill.
The media heavily covered the bill after Jon Stewart gave an impassioned speech during a subcommittee hearing in Congress last June 11. Stewart joined many of the 9/11 first-responders, most of whom were sick from the effects of the incident, in lobbying for the extension of the fund.
One of whom was John Feal, a construction worker from Long Island. Feal has been lobbying for the 9/11 VCF from the start.
Another lobbyist that Stewart worked with was Luiz Alvarez, one of the first-responders who spoke before the Congress. Alvarez died last June 30 from cancer that he acquired from the hazardous environment in the 9/11 site. Alvarez passed a few weeks after giving his testimony last June 11.
Before the approval of the bill, the 9/11 VCF have almost run out of money. Based on the Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya’s 2019 reports, the claims would reach $11.6 million even before the bill expired next year. To be able to compensate, future payouts to the victims and the families need to be decreased by 70%.
The shortage of funds was caused by inflated costs and increased in the number of eligible recipients. Based on the World Trade Center Health Program data, there has been an increase of 18,841 responders and 12,593 survivors. From April 2017, there has been an average of 710 new enrollees into the program as more and more responders, and survivors discover 9/11-related diseases.
The future for the 9/11 VCF is now secured. Senators and Congresspeople estimate that there will be about $10 billion to be distributed among eligible candidates and their families over ten years.
President Donald Trump will be signing the bill on Friday. Feal and other first-responders and their families have been invited to witness the occasion.
9/11 Hero Lobbyists
The 9/11 VCF lobbyists have been active since it was deactivated in 2004. During that time, many survivors and responders did not know that they were exposed to toxic fumes on site.
Feal, who lost his foot during the 9/11 attack, led the fight to bring focus on the people who have served others during a tumultuous time in US history. He has fought for the support for 9/11 VCF for 15 years.
In 2010 and 2015, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has held up the bill for its extension. Feal called out Senator McConnell and called him names on television, which caught the attention of Stewart. Since then, Stewart has become a fierce advocate for the 9/11 responders and survivors.
Two weeks after the June 11 hearing, Feal secured a meeting with Senator McConnell. Feal appealed to Senator McConnell to rally behind the 9/11 responders and survivors. He delivered a handwritten note from Alvarez, calling for the senator’s support. Feal also handed Alvarez’s detective badge to Senator McConnell as a symbol of their fight for the legislation.
Senator McConnell talked to the lobbyists and assured them that the legislation would be voted on before the Senate and the House breaks for recess.
When the vote was announced, Feal thanked McConnell for being instrumental in getting the legislation to the Senate. Feal said, “He kept his word to me.”