Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill to permanently fund the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which provides healthcare for first responders to the 9/11 terror attack. First responders have been lobbying for its passage over recent months as the current legislation was set to expire next year. The US president is expected to sign the bill into law. The Senate passed the bill 97-2 which will fund the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund for decades, permanently compensating individuals who were injured during the 2001 terrorist attacks and their aftermath rescuing people and removing debris under hazardous conditions.
The new bill would extend the expiration date through 2090 and cost what is deemed necessary to compensate those first responders to the devastating attacks. The Congressional Budget Office estimates it will cost about $10 billion over the next decade. The bill is named after James Zadroga, Luis Alvarez and Ray Pfeifer, two New York police detectives and a firefighter who responded to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and died due to health complications attributed to their work at Ground Zero.
The collapse of the World Trade Center in September 2001 sent a cloud of thick dust billowing over Lower Manhattan. Fires burned for weeks. Thousands of construction workers, police officers, firefighters and others spent time working in the soot, often without proper respiratory protection. In the following years, many have seen their health decline, some with respiratory or digestive-system ailments that appeared almost immediately, others with illnesses that developed as they aged, including cancer.
More than 40,000 people have applied to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which covers illnesses potentially related to being at the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon or Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after the attacks. More than $5 billion in benefits have been awarded out of the $7.4 billion fund, with about 21,000 claims pending. In the face of dwindling resources and a surge in claims, the fund’s administrator announced in February that it would need to significantly reduce its awards. Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya said the fund received over 19,000 compensation forms from 2011 to 2016 and almost 20,000 more from 2016 to 2018 in part due to an increased rate of serious illnesses.
The original fund from 2001 to 2004 distributed over $7 billion to compensate the families of over 2,880 people who died on 9/11 and 2,680 individuals who were injured, according to the Justice Department. In 2011, Congress reactivated the fund and in 2015 reauthorized it for another five years, appropriating $7.4 billion to aid thousands more people. The fund was set to stop taking new claims in December 2020.
Last week, Sen. Rand Paul, delayed the bill’s passage, criticizing Congress for not offsetting its cost by not cutting government spending elsewhere. Paul and Sen. Mike Lee, were the only senators to vote against the bill. After the passage of the bill, Senate Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the bill guarantees “once and for all that the heroes who rushed to the towers 18 years ago will no longer have to worry about compensation for their families when they’re gone. First responders won’t have to return to Congress anymore to fight for the compensation they always should have been given,” Schumer said. “They will be able to go home, attend to their illnesses, their family members, their friends. That’s what they always wanted to do, just take care of themselves and their families.”