Congressional lawmakers propose 9/11-style compensation for essential workers
The lawmakers behind the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund rolled out a bill Thursday that would create a similar financial rescue fund for essential workers who suffer or die from the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill doesn’t yet have a price tag or any way to estimate how many people would be in line for payments, but members of Congress argued that whatever the cost, the nation should act now to avoid leaving heroes of the COVID-19 horrors out in the cold the way 9/11 responders were for so many years.
“Workers all over this country are putting their lives on the line to help their sick neighbors, keep people fed, and keep our essential services running,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), one of the co-sponsors. “Just as they are here for us, we need to be there for them if they get sick.”
The bill would set up a 9/11-style fund that would likely dwarf the billions handed out to the more limited population of those harmed by the terrorist attacks.
It would be geared to people all across the country in any industry where workers were required to leave their lockdowns to risk infection on the job. It would cover lost employment, medical costs, lost business and burial expenses, among other things. It would be overseen by a special master within the Justice Department.
“It is morally essential that Congress pass the Pandemic Heroes Compensation Act for these heroes and their families," said Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.).
The bill has bipartisan and bicameral support, but was not included in the $3 trillion Heroes Act announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this week.
In part, the measure was not finished in time, but Nadler said it was probably a good thing, politically, considering the resounding thumbs-down the GOP gave to Pelosi's mammoth measure.
“That bill right now is a Democratic proposal, there’s a lot of Republican opposition,” Nadler said. “Hopefully, we can avoid Republican opposition to this bill that would accrue to it if it were part of the Heroes Act.”
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the lead sponsor of the compensation bill, said first responders and other essential workers would fan out across the Capitol to make the case much the way 9/11 responders did to finally win near-unanimous passage of their compensation fund.
“We will meet with every single member of Congress on both sides of the aisle and explain the merits,” Maloney said. “Once you get over 300 co-sponsors, as we got with the 9/11 health and compensation bill, believe me, it’s going to pass.”
King argued that beyond providing vital aid, a fund would help ensure the economy doesn’t tank when the pandemic eases, as families are still reeling from illness and death.
“Just from the economic aspect, we have to make it clear this money is going to be there, this funding is going to be there,” King said. Do you expect some problems? I’m sure there will be, but again, nothing in life is easy, and I think we have all of the merits on our side. All of the reality is on our side."