9/11 first responders fight Congress over compensation fund
WASHINGTON — First responders, survivors and their advocates — some sick and disabled — rallied at the Capitol Monday to demand Congress never forget their sacrifice and restore the 9/11 victims compensation fund that is nearly gutted.
The move follows an announcement earlier this month that the fund is quickly running out of money due to a record number of claims.
“Congress must not sit idly by ignoring this suffering,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). “This crisis is urgent. People are suffering. People are dying and we cannot and will not turn our backs on these men and women.”
Gillibrand, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Jerry Nadler, Peter King and Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner announced bipartisan legislation to ensure the victims fund is replenished and will remain open to those who become ill in the future.
Comedian Jon Stewart, a longtime activist for the 9/11 community, said it’s embarrassing that first responders have come to Washington routinely for the last 18 years to fight for justice.
“It’s an embarrassment to us and our country,” Stewart said.
He offered special praise for the “Trump Justice Department” for administrating the program properly and said “now it’s Congress’ job to fund it properly and let these people live in peace.”
Jon Feal, a 9/11 first responder and activist, started an online petition to shame lawmakers into passing the legislation. “This is no way to treat human beings who sacrificed so much that day,” Feal’s petition says.
Police and firefighters have routinely come to the Capitol over the years to ensure 9/11 victims are never forgotten. Many first responders who have lobbied congress in the past weren’t there on Monday because they have become too sick or died from their illnesses in the years since, including firefighter Ray Pfeifer.
Their activism helped congress in 2015 reauthorize the fund through Dec. 18, 2020, under the James Zadroga 9/11 act.
Rupa Bhattacharyya, the victims fund’s special master, announced Feb. 15 that the program has already awarded nearly $5 billion of its $7.375 billion funding limit and can’t fully compensate the record number of claims coming in.
Pending awards will be reduced by 50 percent, and any claims filed after Feb. 2 will be reduced by 70 percent, she determined.
Maloney donned a firefighter’s coat at the press conference — a gift to her on Monday for her longtime activism for the first responders.
“I do not intend to take it off until we pass this bill,” the Manhattan rep said.